France confirms deportation of illegal Afghan immigrants

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The French government confirmed on Wednesday that it has expelled illegal Afghan immigrants in its first joint deportation flight with the UK, in a move criticised by the opposition and human rights groups.

The deportation was widely anticipated, but the French government had refused to confirm that it would be expelling Afghan illegal immigrants until Wednesday. Immigration Minister Eric Besson told Europe One radio that three Afghan men had been put on a plane that had been chartered by the British government. The plane was also carrying illegal Afghan immigrants living in Britain.

Besson said a fourth Afghan had been slated to be expelled as well, but was held back at the last minute. He said those expelled had lost their appeals against deportation, including one before the European Court of Human Rights. He said that he will not rule out future deportation flights with Britain.

The expulsions have sparked widespread outcry on the part of human rights groups and opposition politicians, including Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe. The French rights group France Terre d'Asile has gathered thousands of signatures in a petition against deportation.

Marie-Helene Senay, communications director for France Terre d'Asile, said she opposed the deporting of Afghans back to their country, which has been torn by conflict, even if they do not meet asylum requirements in France.

"We think the situation in Afghanistan does not [warrant] the return of Afghan people in good security. We know the situation over there is the worst we have ever known since 2001," she said. "We know there is still war everywhere, that the police and the security forces cannot maintain the country in a stable position. So we really wonder what kind of security we can [have] for the people we send back there."

The French government, however, has argued that it is only trying to crack down on human smuggling rings and that illegal immigrants are given every legal recourse to remain in France. Immigration Minister Besson defended the decision, saying that "if France never sends people back, it becomes the target for people traffickers." He added that the three men put on the flight were from the Afghan capital of Kabul, "where there is no risk for them", and would be given monetary assistance to help them settle back into Afghanistan.