France, Britain Deport Illegal Afghan Migrants

A plane from London stopped at Paris Wednesday and then flew on to Kabul. It didn't have troops or military supplies on board though, but illegal Afghan migrants being returned to their home country. It's part of a joint crack down on illegal immigration on both sides of the English Channel.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A plane flew, yesterday, from London to Paris, and then to Kabul. It did not have troops or military supplies on board for Afghanistan. Instead there were illegal Afghan migrants being returned home. It's part of a joint crackdown on illegal immigration on both sides of the English Channel and we have more this morning from NPR's Rob Gifford.

ROB GIFFORD: The plane took off from London yesterday without incident or demonstration carrying 23 failed Afghan asylum seekers and one former prisoner. It then stopped off at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris to collect three more Afghan men and was met there by an angry crowd.

Crowd: Your brother, your nation, stop deportation.

GIFFORD: You know something's up when French protesters are chanting in English, your brother, your nation, stop deportation. The move has created much more anger in France than in Britain. French opposition and refugee groups say the situation in Afghanistan is too unsafe for migrants to be returned, even if they did enter France illegally.

But French immigration minister Eric Besson defended the move saying that if France never sends people back, it becomes a target for people traffickers.

Mr. ERIC BESSON (French Immigration Minister): (Foreign language spoken)

GIFFORD: These three men are from Kabul, said Besson. And there's no risk for them to return home. And he promised they would be helped by French diplomatic personnel on arrival. This coordinated new policy by the French and British governments comes a month after French police broke up a makeshift camp, known as the jungle, in the port city of Calais which had been set up by immigrants hoping to reach Britain through the channel tunnel.

The widespread belief in the U.K. is that Britain has a relatively relaxed policy on illegal immigrants. But Hannah Ward of the Refugee Council in London says it's actually the French who have the much softer policy.

Ms. HANNAH WARD (Refugee Council in London): this is the first time that the French authorities have forcibly returned anyone to Afghanistan since 2005. I think the U.K. has had a much tougher policy on Afghans claiming asylum in the U.K. It certainly doesn't recognize very many of them as refugees, and it has been forcibly removing men and boys over the age of 12, pretty much on a regular basis for some time now.

GIFFORD: Ward says more than 1100 failed asylum seekers and others from Afghanistan were returned to their country from Britain last year alone. She says refugee groups are now watching to see if this new joint policy means France will start doing the same on a larger scale.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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