By Joan Trevor
French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, whose vicious immigration reforms have now passed both houses of the French parliament, has softened his stance not one iota, in spite of what it says on the BBC news website about him having relented: “Mr Sarkozy plans to spare about 1,200 children who faced expulsion and deportation with their families.”
The children to be spared deportation at the end of the school year are those who were born in France and who have no connection with their parents’ country of origin.
The main campaign fighting the new legislation, Réseau Education Sans Frontières (RESF) (Education Without Borders Network), estimates that 50,000 families, including tens of thousands of children, are still liable to be deported after 30 June. According to RESF the concession will therefore spare just 2% of people affected.
Many of these immigrants have lived, undocumented, in France for years, eking a living where they could. They can now be returned, doubtless with many kicks and curses, to countries where they have no stake and might well face persecution.
The campaign to oppose deportations includes a petition with more than 60,000 signatures of people pledged to resist what they are calling “la chasse à l’enfant” (the childhunt) by hiding children if necessary, thereby risking large fines or imprisonment.
Many in the UK will have witnessed a whole school getting up in arms when a pupil is threatened with deportation. It’s a heartening experience, but unfortunately it’s also paradoxical: both in France and the UK the overwhelming majority of people worry that there are too many illegal immigrants and say they want them sent back to where they came from (or just anywhere, rather than here).
It might be the case that many of them would change their minds if they actually witnessed a deportation. At the moment, such life and death dramas go on at detention centres and airports, only rarely being played out in public. The school cases are rare… in the UK — they seem about to become commonplace in France.
On 1 July in Paris there is a third national demonstration against the new law. Trade unionists and socialists in the UK and France need to make the fight against deportations and racist immigration law an integral part of their overall fight for the working class, and to fight them with the weapons they use for all their battles — industrial action. It will be hard to persuade workers of that, but the argument must be made.
Nicolas Sarkozy feels no embarrassment echoing French voters’ anti-immigrant anxieties. Unembarrassed, he explained his thinking during a recent visit to a French former colony, Benin in West Africa.
“We have to build a new relationship, cleaner, free of complexes, balanced, clear of the dregs of the past and of obsolescent ideas that remain on both sides of the Mediterranean…
“It is up to us to rid the relationship between Africa and France of the fantasies and the myths that pollute it. France does not have the intentions or the influence it is credited with.”
If one were to summarise, it sounds like he wants normal market relations with countries like Benin, and to forget all about the colonial legacy — no ties, no obligations, no need to say “sorry”. A fresh start.
If only that were possible, and if only France’s former colonies were not scarred by their experience at the hands of their former masters. If only it were possible to brush off human entanglements, dismiss real human lives. If only it weren’t for those wretched bloody immigrants and all their bloody children.
That seems to sum up Sarkozy’s approach to France’s foreign relations and any obligations France might have to its residents born in Africa or Asia or the Caribbean or the Pacific. The approach of his president and boss (but no friend) Jacques Chirac looks different but is also repugnant.
Chirac is of the older school. He has done much public breast beating in the last year over France’s past racism, even admitted that there racism still exists. He has declared 10 May a national day to remember slavery and France’s role in it. After the autumn 2005 riots he cancelled planned legislation to make French schools teach about “positive aspects” of colonialism. On the architectural front, his presidential bequest to the nation is a new museum displaying indigenous art from Africa, Asia and Australasia.
Various critics say the president’s atonement is just a token. The French establishment does not get anywhere near owning up to the crimes of French colonial and foreign policy, but on the contrary continues to interfere disastrously in the affairs of French former colonies, especially those in Africa. This policy was named “Françafrique” by a campaigner called François-Xavier Verschave.
The 29th June will be the first anniversary of Verschave’s death, a fitting time to visit the website of the valuable (far from perfect, but very valuable) campaign he set up, Survie (Survival). There you can read about some of France’s “complexes” about Africa that Sarkozy claims he wants to get away from.
• Survie: www.survie-france.org/
• RESF petition in English: