This week a controversial immigration bill was passed by the French lower house. Backed by Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy, himself the son of a Hungarian immigrant, the bill has the support of French MPs and is likely to pass the full Senate. The proposal is expected to spark a fresh wave of protests and strikes, as furious French citizens, many of them former immigrants, denounce the bill as rascist and elitist.
Serge Blisko, a Socialist MP said the bill amounts to "the oranised pillaging of brains," while the French rights group SOS Racisme called it "dangerous for the country." SOS spokesperson Marielou Jampolski said the bill "tries to kill every liberty and every right of the French immigrants."
The bill specifies that only those persons with special "skills and talents" would be eligible for a residency permit. Foreigners would be allowed to enter France to work, but would not receive government benefits. The bill also stipulates that foreign spouses would have to wait longer periods to receive residence cards and that all immigrants must agree to learn French, as well as sign a contract of sorts, respecting the French way of life. Further, the bill would abandon an existing law allowing immigrants to earn French citizenship, after ten years working in France.
Sarkozy, who is widely accepted to harbour presidential ambitions, has praised skilled migrants' contribution to France. But he said those who entered the country illegally must be sent home. Sarkozy said that riots in 2005 by youths in the banlieue or Paris suburbs, as well as in cities across France showed the current system of immigration and integration isn't working. He said France, like other Western countries, should be able to choose its immigrants. He said he advocated "selective immigration."
On Friday, hundreds of people protested Sarkozy's arrival in Benin's main city, Cotonou. Protesters shouted "Racist, out of our country" and "Go home," as riot police guarded the interior ministry, where Sarkozy met with government officials.
Sarkozy faced similar protests Thursday in Mali's capital Bamako. Police sources told reporters that planes carrying deportees from France arrive every day, some carrying up to 70 people. Many Africans consider immigration to Europe their only ticket out of poverty. France has a large immigrant population from French-speaking African nations, as well as North African countries including Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
On Wednesday deputies in the National Assembly approved the bill by 367 votes to 164. The bill also must be passed by the Senate, which will debate the measure in June.
Meanwhile, The Council of Christian Churches wrote to the French government expressing concern about the immigration reform bill.