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Friday, 28 July, 2000, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
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France has told its European partners that Europe should be prepared to take in millions of migrants in the next 50 years to offset population decline.

The idea was put forward in a discussion document at Friday's meeting of European interior and justice ministers, which France is hosting in Marseille.

The document has been drawn up by France's Interior Minister, Jean-Pierre Chevenement.

He uses forthright language in what amounts to a wake-up call to European governments to start opening up to more legal immigration.

He says that Europe, a land of immigration, will become a place where racial mixing occurs and public opinion needs to be enlightened and convinced.

'Racial mixing'

The use of the word 'racial mixing' - metissage in French - has raised some eyebrows, particularly in Britain.

But though our correspondent says the language is blunt, the idea corresponds with the interior minister's strongly-held view that controlled immigration is a good thing, as long as it is accompanied by integration.

The issue of immigration, legal and illegal, is high on the European agenda at the moment especially after the Dover tragedy, in which 58 Chinese people died as they were being smuggled across the English Channel.

France's view is that while more must be done to stamp out the international gangs that control the illicit cross-border traffic, it is time for an open debate on the benefits, indeed the necessity, of new influxes of people.

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See also:

20 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese gangs' cruel trade
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Europe to battle people smugglers
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France targets people smugglers
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