By Tiemoko Diallo
BAMAKO – French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday defended a selective new immigration bill for his country after he faced a hostile reception in Mali from protesters who called the law racist and discriminatory.
th taunts of “racist, racist” as he visited the French consulate in Bamako at the start of a visit to West Africa, Sarkozy said the legislation passed by France’s lower house of parliament would promote secure, legal immigration.
The bill, which aims to attract skilled workers while keeping less skilled ones out, has stirred angry protests in France and former French colony Mali.
Hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Mali and other African countries live in France, many of them illegally.
“Our policy is simple: More rights for Malians whose situation is in order and fewer Malians in an illegal situation. No nation with a state of law can fault us for that policy,” he said after meeting Malian Prime Minister Ousmane Issoufi Maiga.
“I’ve come to … clear up any misunderstanding,” he added.
Sarkozy, a leading contender for France’s 2007 presidential election, arrived in Mali on Wednesday and was also due to visit Benin on Friday for talks on French policy in Africa, including immigration and development aid.
Critics of Sarkozy’s immigration law, including France’s opposition, the church and immigrant groups, say it will stigmatise foreigners, discriminate against the poor and dent France’s traditional role as a haven for the persecuted.
The law, to be debated by France’s Senate in June, would create a three-year “skills and talents” residence permit to attract skilled workers but also allow in workers in sectors and zones facing unskilled labour shortages.
It would also make it harder for resident immigrants to bring their families to France.
“It’s a racist law,” said Diadie Yacouba Daniogo, one of around 100 protesters who gave Sarkozy a noisy reception in Bamako. Riot police guarded the building.
Sarkozy asked Malian authorities to help crack down on traffickers who smuggled illegal migrants to France.
The French minister’s visit to West Africa comes at a time when European countries are becoming increasingly worried about growing waves of foreign immigrants, many from West Africa, trying to gain entry by both sea and land. Hundreds die in the attempt, some in the deserts of North Africa, others drowned in perilous sea voyages.
Faced with a mounting backlash at home against illegal immigrants, European countries are taking steps to control the flow of those trying to get in.
Spain, one of the main destinations of African migrants due to its position on Europe’s southern flank, is asking the European Union for help to stem a rush of illegal immigrants, especially to the Spanish Canary Islands.
Spanish authorities say more than 1,500 illegal African immigrants have arrived on the Canaries in the last week alone. Authorities in Senegal said on Thursday they were taking steps to halt illegal migrant voyages. — Reuter