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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 January 2006, 23:38 GMT
Sarkozy alters tack on immigration
By Alasdair Sandford
BBC News, Paris

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy said France needed immigrants who brought new skills
For someone who is said to be a hardliner, the words were perhaps surprising.

Last year, Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to expel foreigners who had been involved in the urban riots, and tried to organise joint charter flights with Britain to deport illegal immigrants.

The interior minister was expected to use his traditional New Year's greetings to the media to announce another tough crackdown.

Instead he told his audience that France should look more positively on immigration.

"In all the world's great democracies, immigration presents the possibility of bringing in new skills, new talents, new blood," he said.

"But here at home, immigration still has a negative connotation. Why? Because it's not regulated, because it's not linked to our economic needs, and because it does not come with an ambitious policy for integration."

Good prospects

This definition of immigration as a good thing is certainly a new approach for France.

If we want to stop a very nasty surge of the extreme right, we have to deal seriously with this problem
MP Jean Dionis du Sejour
Under the policy, qualified workers and students with good prospects will get priority.

Unless newcomers can benefit the French economy or French life in some way, they are unlikely to be granted residence permits.

Backbench MP Jean Dionis du Sejour, from the centrist UDF party, says other countries choose their immigrants in a similar way.

"If we want to stop a very nasty surge of the extreme right, we have to deal seriously with this problem," he adds.

Mr Sarkozy's selective approach has been condemned as discriminatory by welfare groups.

It is unlikely to help people such as Naushad Auzim.

Jobless and fed up with poverty in his native Mauritius, he came to France 15 years ago but has no more right to stay now than on the day he arrived.

Illegal immigrants demonstrate in Calais, demanding a right to stay
Illegal immigrants marched in Calais, demanding a right to stay

He, his wife and their two young children, who were born in France, share one room in a friend's flat.

As part of France's "sans-papiers" - people without papers - they have no rights to housing, jobs or welfare benefits. Naushad does odd jobs in the black economy to support the family.

Under the existing law they might expect to be allowed to stay, having been here for more than 10 years.

But the authorities have regularly turned down their application, citing a lack of proof.

There have been no attempts to deport them, yet they live a twilight existence in France.

"How long can this go on?" asks Naushad. "I'm 46, I've been here for 15 years. What future can you build for the children? We're not criminals, we're not dangerous, we're just a family."

State of limbo

The interior minister has called for more transparency in immigration policy.

Mr Sarkozy says French people have a right to know how many immigrants are entering the country, and why.

People have the right to bring their families over, he argues, but only if they can house and keep them, and integrate into French society.

Immigrant women imprisoned by their husbands at home will not be allowed to stay, he says.

The stance is likely to prove popular with voters. But whether it will deter would-be immigrants is another matter.

Whatever the law says, the permanent state of limbo in which the Auzim family exists hardly seems fair.

Nicolas Sarkozy says claims such as theirs will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

For the unsuccessful, the signs are not good.

The minister wants to see a significant rise in the number of illegal immigrants escorted to France's borders and deported.

Listen to extracts from Nicolas Sarkozy's speech


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