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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 June 2006, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
French relent on migrant children
French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy
Mr Sarkozy is tipped to run for the presidency next year
French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has softened his stance on the expulsion of illegal immigrants' children from French schools.

Mr Sarkozy plans to spare about 1,200 children who faced expulsion and deportation with their families.

Since April, more than 40,000 people have signed a petition pledging to protect and house the children of immigrants to save them from expulsion.

An immigration bill adopted by the lower house envisaged such expulsions.

The bill is still being debated by the upper house of parliament, the Senate.

Anti-deportation campaign

A French pressure group called "Education Without Borders" has run an extremely successful grass-roots campaign against the deportation of illegal immigrants and their children - calling the government's plans a "childhunt", the BBC's Caroline Wyatt reports from Paris.

The group has an informal network of supporters, many of them teachers or priests, who have volunteered to hide children threatened with deportation. They argued that deporting children was against the values of the French republic.

The group says 50,000 immigrant families with children at school in France could still be deported under Mr Sarkozy's immigration bill.

Originally, families whose application to stay in France had been turned down were given an amnesty allowing their children to remain at French schools until 30 June, the end of the school year - at which point immigration officials could deport them.

The government has been cracking down on immigration in recent years, a move supported by three-quarters of the French public, our correspondent reports.

Mr Sarkozy has been trying to move towards a US or Australian-style system of seeking out immigrants with particular skills that France needs, while being tougher on sending home failed asylum seekers.

Yet after the negative publicity generated by the education pressure group, he has promised this limited amnesty, which affects children born in France.

The French government has made it clear that this amnesty is not a wider one - and that illegal immigrants can still expect to be deported if their application to remain in France has been refused.


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