FRANCE

Rights group slams French child migrant policy

Human Rights Watch has called on France to scrap its policy of detaining and deporting unaccompanied migrant children who fly into Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport. French Immigration Minister Eric Besson (pictured) criticised the group's report.

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AFP - Human Rights Watch called on France Thursday to scrap its policy of detaining and deporting unaccompanied migrant children who fly into Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport.

The New York-based rights group said authorities denied entry to some 1,500 migrant children between January 2008 and July 2009, claiming one-third of those were deported.

"Some of these children were trafficked, some were fleeing persecution in their home countries, and some were arriving to join family members," it said in a report.

Authorities argue that child migrants have not officially entered France on arrival and therefore do not have the same rights as those on French territory. They are placed in a "transit zone" inside the airport until their claims to enter the country are processed.

Human Rights Watch said the French government should scrap the zones, describing them as a "legal fiction" which do not give sufficient rights to vulnerable young migrants.

Based on interviews carried out with migrant children, the NGO claims they are often kept in detention with adults, face "degrading treatment by police" and are forced to sign papers that they do not understand.

The French government, however, defended its policy.

Immigration Minister Eric Besson issued a statement late Thursday evening, criticising the "multitude of factual errors" and the "pointlessly polemical tone" in the HRW report.

"The position taken by Human Rights Watch on the scrapping of the transit zone is unwarranted and, in many respects, dangerous," Besson said.

"France stands out with its generosity towards foreign children who arrive on its soil... it is one of the few developed countries which does not send unaccompanied minors that have illegally entered its territory back to their home countries," he added.

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