24th May 2019

France considers paying migrants to go home

France's newly set up ministry of immigration and national identity has made itself heard for the first time, with its chief, Brice Hortefeux, floating an idea to financially reward those immigrants who voluntarily return to their native country.

"We must increase this measure to help voluntary returns. I am very clearly committed to doing that," French minister Brice Hortefeux was cited as saying by the BBC.

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  • Bosnian migrants: a family with two children would be paid €6,000 to leave French territory (Photo: wikipedia)

According to the long-time friend and ally of president Nicolas Sarkozy, a family with two children would be paid €6,000 to leave French territory.

A similar sweetener has already been in use, with some 3,000 families leaving France in exchange for money in 2005-2006, the BBC reported.

Nicolas Sarkozy fought his way to the Elysee palace partially on the platform of a tough anti-immigration stance, repeatedly saying he aims for "a policy of controlled immigration."

The country is home to approximately 2 million immigrants from north and sub-Saharan Africa – something that was strongly highlighted in 2005 when riots hit the immigrant-heavy suburbs.

However controversial Mr Hortefeux's comments may seem, they are fully in line with what the European Commission's intentions are in this area.

"In terms of illegal immigrants currently present [in the EU territory], we have to encourage them to return and follow procedures for legal entrance. This can be co-funded via European projects," EU home affairs commissioner Franco Frattini said last week (16 May), while tabling a proposal aimed to set up such legal routes to the bloc.

Between 2008-2013, the 27-nation bloc will be able to make use of a European return fund running to €676 million – something set up to ensure EU capitals share more fairly the financial burden of immigration.

"The European Commission is in favour of voluntary return," one official told EUobserver, adding "incentives for voluntary return should not become a pull factor for migrants to come the EU illegally, however."

"The possibility to expel must be also in place," another official added.

Immigrant amnesty

Last month, Germany stirred European waters over immigration, as the country's interior minister informed his colleagues about Berlin's decision to give a legal status to tens of thousands of the so-called tolerated or "geduldet" foreigners.

Applicants who can prove they have been living in Germany for at least eight years – six years in case of a family - and can demonstrate interest in integration, have a place to live, no criminal record and are able to speak German, may be granted temporary German residency, under a piece of legislation passed by German government and parliament.

According to official figures made available to EUobserver, there are approximately 50,000 tolerated foreigners - out of 171,000 - staying in Germany for more than ten years.

But commissioner Frattini has warned EU capitals not to make an excessive use of mass legalization, saying an "illegal situation must remain illegal. You cannot make something illegal legal."

In 2005, Berlin itself strongly criticized a similar move by Spain – the country which is under the biggest pressure from migrant flows, just after Cyprus. At the time, the Spanish government launched a programme, granting legal amnesty to up to 800,000 undocumented immigrants.

Paris in response banned those who benefited from mass amnesty from working in France and the European Commission set up a system under which each member state must inform the rest of EU club about any such moves.

Immigration has made it to the top of the bloc's political agenda, as Europe seeks ways of fulfilling its economic needs for workers due to a rapidly ageing population, while alleviating the pressure of illegal migration. Some 300,000 illegal migrants arrive on EU territory each year.

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