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Page last updated at 07:14 GMT, Tuesday, 19 May 2009 08:14 UK

Mali resists aiding French deportations

Souvenirs salesman shake hands in front of the Eiffel Tower on 31 March 2009

By Martin Vogl
BBC News, Bamako

Diawoye Keita had been living in France for 16 years before he was deported back to Mali at the end of last year.

He had been working and paying taxes in France, but he had never managed to get the right to permanently live there.

One day last October, a routine identity check at a train station triggered a chain of events that led to him being handcuffed, put on a plane and accompanied by French police officers.

"I arrived back in Bamako that evening," he said. "It has been years since I lived here. I didn't know the city at all."

Tens of thousands of Malians are living illegally in France and the French government would like to be able to send these people home more easily and stop any further arrivals.

To that end France is trying to get Mali to sign an agreement which would create an overall framework for dealing with immigration.

Diawoye Keita
Diawoye Keita hopes the French authorities will reconsider his case

One issue for the French authorities is that when they come across a Malian living illegally in France who does not have a valid passport, they need to get a document known as a "laissez-passer" from the Malian authorities so that the person can be flown back to Mali.

Paris wants the Malian embassy and consulates in France to issue these documents more quickly and this is a key part of the proposed agreement.

In return, France would offer a certain number of visas every year to Malians who want to work in France and there is also the promise of greater development aid.

France has managed to convince other African former colonies, and other countries, of the merits of this deal.

Senegal, Gabon, Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), Benin, Tunisia, Mauritius and Burkina Faso have all signed similar agreements, as has Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony.

French frustration

But much to the frustration of the French, Mali is holding out.

Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure in the Oval Office of the White House on 12 February 2008
Mali's president has not ruled out signing an accord

The Malian government is very sensitive about being seen to be helping France deport people.

Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure has not ruled out signing an accord, but it is clear he's going to take some convincing.

"There are enormous amounts of money that are sent back to us from our citizens overseas, mainly in France, so we can't take any decision lightly," he told Radio France International back in February.

French Immigration Minister Eric Besson visited Bamako to discuss the agreement in March.

His "softy softly" approach is evidence that France understands this is a delicate issue.

There's nothing in this agreement that benefits Mali or Malians, it's only France that will gain anything
Mahamadou Keita
Malian Association of Deportees

"My intention is to listen to the Malian authorities, listen to their solutions and to take the time needed to negotiate," he said.

Pro-migrant groups both in France and in Mali have been campaigning hard against the deal.

Mahamadou Keita, from the Malian Association of Deportees, says he cannot understand why Mali's government is even thinking about signing.

"There's nothing in this agreement that benefits Mali or Malians," he said. "It is only France that will gain anything.

"France just wants to send everyone living illegally in France home."

Sarah Belaisch, from the Paris-based non-governmental organisation Cimade, says the big difference about the negotiations with Mali is how much public attention they have been getting.

"Civil society groups both in Mali and in France are watching the negotiations closely in case the agreement is signed," she said.

"That didn't happen with the other accords. They got a lot less attention in the press and the negotiations took place very discreetly."

Embarrassment

France has been holding up its framework on immigration as a possible blueprint that the European Union as a whole could follow.

Bamako
Now Diawoye Keita can barely afford a bus fare back in Bamako

Not being able to get Mali to sign up, however, is something of an embarrassment.

Mali has signed a treaty dealing with immigration with Spain.

Almost every month a charter plane of Malians arrives back in Bamako from Spain after being deported.

In October last year the European Union opened an office in Bamako aimed at informing Malians how they can get to Europe legally and assisting those who have returned from Europe to resettle in Mali.

So far the work of the Centre for Migration Information and Management has been limited as the office has struggled to settle into its role.

Diawoye Keita, meanwhile, keeps all his payslips in an orange folder along with the other documents he hopes might help convince the French authorities to reconsider his case.

These days he has got to know Bamako a bit better, but he has to walk to get around town.

In France he was making more than 1,000 euros ($1,350; £880) a month and sending a chunk of his wage packet back to his family in Mali.

These days he does not have the 20 cents for a bus fare.

His is certainly an extreme case, but more Malians living illegally in France may have to come to terms with similar experiences, if Mali decides to sign up to France's immigration agreement.



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