France charters weekly flights to expel illegal immigrants

The Associated Press, 26 March 2003

PARIS (AP) -- The French government has arranged for weekly charter flights to return illegal immigrants to their homelands, the interior minister said Wednesday, stepping up a policy of group deportations despite objections from human rights groups.

In the past month, 270 foreigners have been returned to their home countries in Africa and Asia on three different government-chartered planes, Nicolas Sarkozy told the National Assembly.

"From now on, flights like this will be organized every week," he said at a session of France's lower house of parliament.

The next flight, organized jointly with Spain, leaves France on Thursday for the Romanian capital, Bucharest, Sarkozy said. In early April, illegal Afghan immigrants will be returned home on a flight co-chartered with the British government.

France carried out its most recent group deportation on Tuesday, sending 55 illegal immigrants from Ivory Coast and Senegal back to their nation's capitals. A flight earlier this month sent Chinese nationals home.

The Paris-based Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Among Peoples has denounced the group deportations, saying they opened the door for harassment and other rights violations of foreigners.

This month, Sarkozy reintroduced the policy of group deportations, which was abandoned several years ago in the face of protests from human rights groups.

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