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Government moves to further tighten immigration laws

French Immigration Minister Eric Besson (pictured) has unveiled a bill to toughen immigration rules and penalties against those employing foreigners without work permits. It is the sixth time since 2002 that France has tried to tighten such laws.


AFP - The French government unveiled a bill on Wednesday to toughen immigration rules and impose strict penalties on anyone employing foreigners without work permits, raising howls of protest from human rights groups.

It is the sixth time since 2002 that France has looked to tighten its immigration laws and comes after President Nicolas Sarkozy launched a debate on national identity that critics say pandered to far-right extremists.

Immigration Minister Eric Besson, who has recently backed calls for a French ban on the full-face Muslim veil, or burqa, presented the bill to the cabinet on Wednesday.

Amongst the measures was a move to increase the time illegal immigrants can be held in detention to 45 days from 32, after which the authorities have to make a decision on whether to expel them or further investigate their request for asylum.

It also postpones the moment that a judge can review their case, leaving it up to an administrative official to make the first call on their detention.

“This is a serious assault on fundamental liberties,” Patrick Henriot, deputy head of the French magistrates’ union was quoted as saying in Le Monde newspaper.

The government decided on this change after judges in January swiftly freed some 124 mainly Kurdish immigrants, who had washed up on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica, rather than move them to the detention centres.

Besson, who has been set a goal by Sarkozy to expel 30,000 illegal immigrants from French soil this year, defended the push to extend the detention period, which will give authorities more time to check asylum demands.

“(The period) is 60 days in Portugal, six months in the Netherlands, Austria or Hungary, eight months in Belgium, 18 months in Germany, 24 months in Switzerland, and unlimited in Britain,” he wrote in his presentation of the bill.

Under the terms of the proposed law, anyone caught employing illegal immigrants will face up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of 15,000 euros ($20,140).

The bill also calls for immigrants hoping to naturalise to adhere “to the essential principles and values of the republic” and requires people to sign a “charter of the rights and duties of the French citizen”.

France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population and the government has been particularly concerned over whether Islam is compatible with the country’s secularist model.

The debate on national identity was supposed to define what it meant to be French, but it swiftly descended into a bitter argument over the presence of Islam in France, with the far-right demanding much stricter controls on mosques.

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