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Europe

France to Push for Tougher Measures Against Illegal Immigrants

As part of its EU presidency, France is planning to present on Monday plans for combating illegal immigration in the 27-member-block despite criticism and accusations of xenophobia.

The injured hands of an African immigrant raised above the fence of the CETI (Temporary Home for Immigrants) in the Spanish North African enclave of Melilla

The French EU presidency sees the fight against illegal immigration as one of its priorities

Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux will present a "European Pact on Immigration and Asylum" at informal talks in the French Riviera resort city of Cannes.

France, which took over the rotating EU presidency on July 1, has cited the harmonization of the block's immigration policy as one of its top priorities of its six-month EU stewardship.

"I think we are very close to an accord," French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said on Tuesday. "There are only a few problems of semantics to resolve."

Under the proposal, EU leaders would pledge to boost the fight against those who cross the block's borders illegally and expel more illegal immigrants.

Once the EU ministers agree on the text of the proposal, the pact could be officially adopted by the leaders of the 27 states in October.

International reactions

A German passport against a map of the world

The EU wants to make sure that all its member states follow the same immigration policy

The pact would be partially built upon the EU's newly agreed Returns Directive which obliges the 27 member states of the EU to choose between issuing residency or other permits to illegal immigrants or returning them to their countries of origin, while empowers the authorities to detain people for up to 18 months if needed during processing.

The directive, which the European Parliament adopted in June, has caused an outrage in some countries, especially in Latin America.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said the law recalled "times of xenophobia" and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Europe had "legalised barbarity". He has threatened to stop selling oil to European states if they apply the new law and to cancel investments in Venezuela by European countries.

Unfair criticism

European Commission President, Portuguese Jose Manuel Barroso, in front of an EU flag

Barroso has stood up for the EU's immigration rules

The EU has rejected accusations of intolerance.

"Honestly I dont believe that the criticism is fair," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on Friday. "The rules… are more generous than ones Latin American countries have between themselves," he told reporters.

EU officials have argued for tougher measures against illegal immigrants as a way of convincing Europeans to be more welcoming of legal immigrants, which are needed in some countries considering the bloc's negative demographics.

French Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux attributed the failure of the Irish EU reform referendum last month partly to the Irish voters' concern about immigration.

The European Commission estimates there are up to 8 million illegal migrants in the EU. More than 200,000 were arrested in the first half of 2007 with less than 90,000 expelled.

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