French Interior Minister pledges tough immigration line

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French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy called for a special Ministry of Immigration to be set up as he pledged to pursue a tough line on illegal arrivals.

Sarkozy, the likely right-wing candidate in next year's presidential election, has made a name for himself as a law-and-order hardliner and underlined his approach in a review of immigration policy this week.

"Our policy of firmness is paying off," he told a news conference. "France is an open country but it's not a wasteland where you can just set up as the wind takes you."

The number of expulsions has doubled in three years, he cited.

He said he envisaged the proposed new minister being charged with ensuring that the policy was kept up and reinforced, while also coordinating all aspects of the dossier.

"The Minister of Immigration will be responsible for maintaining a resolute policy of firmness in the struggle against illegal immigration," he said.

Sarkozy, whose tough talk is adored and hated in equal measure by French voters, is running neck and neck with Socialist candidate Segolene Royal in opinion polls ahead of next April's ballot.

His hard line on immigration is also seen as an attempt to win over voters who might otherwise pick a far right candidate, such as National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Sarkozy said 2005 had been "a break year," with the number of new residence permits granted falling 2.6% from the previous year to 187,000, after rising steadily from 150,000 in 2000 to 191,000 in 2003.

He said the number of illegal entrants expelled from France had doubled to some 20,000 in 2005 from 10,000 in 2002.

Sarkozy's comments reflect rising concern in some segments of Europe over a sharp rise in illegal immigration from poor countries in Africain during the past two years, balanced by calls for a more ordered immigration policy. Spain and the European Union in the past several weeks have begun job center, economic aid, and repatriation initiatives with African nations as part of European efforts to address the concerns that Sarkozy has been expressing throughout this year.

A law on selected immigration that was passed in July of this year will take effect from 2007, and Sarkozy said it would open the way to a more planned approach. He criticized the approach of previous governments, which granted mass amnesties to illegal entrants.

"The immigration debate has for too long been taken over by two extreme ideologies, one which wants zero immigration and one which just wants to open up the frontiers," he said, adding he wanted to see "selected and regulated immigration."

He also called for a European pact on immigration and said he hoped one day to see an international treaty.

"The international community has got organized to manage major planetary issues," he said. "Strangely, international migration is not subject to any global regulation and is left to planetary chaos," he said.

There, in fact, are numerous initiatives by the United Nations and various blocs of countries, including the EU, to regulate immigration, including a worldwide push for biometric data-embedded travel documents such as passports and visas.


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