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Migrants asked to trade traffickers for residence permits

Text by Priscille LAFITTE

Latest update : 2009-02-10

France's new minister of immigration is asking migrants to expose illegal immigration networks in return for a French residency permit. But immigrant-rights advocates are skeptical about the plan.

As Minister of Immigration Eric Besson explains, tackling the illegal immigration problem is a question of “dismantling the networks.” And blowing the whistle on the trafficking organisations that help migrants enter the country illegally is paramount, Besson says.


These first moves by the man who replaced Brice Hortefeux at the politically sensitive Ministry for Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Solidarity have not gone unnoticed.


A measure Besson signed on Jan. 5 proposes offering a residence permit, good for at least six months, in exchange for information on what he called the “networks that earn their living from human trafficking” in statements to local prefects. This provisional residence permit would be renewed as long as an investigation is ongoing. If the legal inquiry leads to a conviction of one or more members of a trafficking network, a 10-year residency permit will be granted to the immigrant. The government pledges, in addition, to offer social aid to ensure that migrants will no longer be dependent on the networks they exposed.


“Of course, we are not against dismantling the traffickers’ networks,” says Pierre Henry, director of France Terre d’Asile (Land of Asylum France), an association that provides aid to migrants. “But I think the minister’s proposition is inefficient and dangerous. And its effects on illegal immigration would be minimal. To listen to the minister, it’s as if this is the only answer to illegal immigration.”


‘Impossible not to rely on traffickers’


“A significant number of people fleeing conflict or persecution are forced to call upon the traffickers,” says Sylvain Saligari, a lawyer specialising in the rights of immigrants.  


“It has become so difficult to get a visa today, and the barriers at Europe’s borders are so difficult to cross, that it is impossible not to rely on traffickers,” Henry agrees.


‘Willing to denounce anyone to get their papers’


Saligari expects Besson’s measure will face difficulties. “Immigrants who are desperate would be willing to denounce anyone to get their papers,” he says. “And one can bet that those denounced would not belong to the important networks. They would be the minor players.”


Saligari also expresses concern over how the police would handle this new responsibility. “You can just imagine the consequences if the police force gets involved in the immigration process after this type of accusation,” he says. “I fear the consequences, when one considers the deportation quotas.”


Moreover, “the victims of Mafias or other well-organised networks very rarely talk,” says Saligari. “It’s too dangerous, and the protection offered by the law is not sufficient.”

Very few prostitutes registered

To get an idea of how effective such policies can be, one need only look at the results of a policy that is quite similar to the one proposed by Besson. A 2003 law asked prostitutes to expose their pimps in exchange for a residence permit. According to figures compiled by the Agence France-Presse news agency – there are no official estimates – fewer than 100 residencies were granted under this policy in 2008.


Organisations providing aid to prostitutes, such as Mouvement du Nid – a movement started by singer Seal – say that many who denounced their pimps were never granted their papers, or received only very provisional residency permits. And they were offered no protection from retaliation.


Date created : 2009-02-09