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Tunisian refugees detained in France

French police have been rounding up refugees, mostly Tunisians, who have moved on to France from Italy. The operation has drawn criticism from many NGOs, who fear the refugees could be deported.

African refugees in a boat

The boat trip from Africa to Europe is often hazardous

French migrant associations and unions are protesting at the police round-up of refugees, most of them Tunisians, that has been taking place in France.

Dozens of immigrants have been detained by police for questioning in the past two days in Paris and its outer suburbs, and in the southern city of Marseilles.

Migrant associations fear that some of those called in for questioning will be deported back to their country of origin.

Residence permit "not enough"

Most of the Tunisian migrants have journeyed on from Italy, where they were issued with a six-month residence permit that theoretically allows them to move to other European Union countries. Many Tunisians have relatives or friends in France, which was formerly Tunisia's colonial ruler.

However, Interior Minister Claude Gueant said that to take up temporary residence in France, the migrants also need "to possess sufficient resources." He said that those migrants who "do not fulfill these obligations must be removed to their country of origin or, in the case of those with a travel permit issued by the Italian authorities, be readmitted to Italy."

French law requires temporary migrants to possess the sum of 31 euros ($46) per day to be able to stay in the country.

"Disproportionate response"

The organization France Terre d'Asile, which fights for asylum seekers' rights, called the police response to the situation of young Tunisians who have arrived in France "unacceptable and disproportionate."

In a statement, it said the migrants had been taken in for questioning near sites where the Red Cross was distributing food.

Another organization, Mrap, said that the migrants included minors who should be especially protected under laws for the protection of children.

Franco-Italian tensions

Berlusconi and Sarkozy

The Italian and French presidents have been discussing the problem

In its statement, Mrap said the 25,000 Tunisians who had landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa since the start of the year were a "very modest migratory movement" in comparison with the "biblical exodus" prophesied by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The problem caused by the influx of migrants has provoked tensions between France and Italy, where most of them have arrived.

At a summit in Rome on Tuesday, the two countries pleaded in favor of making it possible to reestablish temporary controls on internal European Union borders.

Author: Timothy Jones (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Susan Houlton

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