Police raid migrants' church protest

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Police raided the church of St Bernard in central Paris at dawn yesterday, to evict 300 mainly African and Maghrebian immigrants campaigning to be granted legal residence in France as the parents of French nationals. The immigrants had occupied the church on 28 June after being evicted from other premises in a protest that began in March.

The group included 10 people on protracted hunger strike, five of whom were detained in hospital after medical examination. A lawyer for the protesters said the police action was legally questionable and that those who wanted to return to the church should do so.

Daniel Vaillant, the Socialist mayor of the Paris district where the raid took place, said the government had to understand that "such a rough and contemptuous attitude would solve nothing".

Last month, the Interior minister, Jean-Louis Debre, signalled a softer line on illegal immigrants who were "foreign parents of French children" (illegal immigrants whose children were born in France and were French nationals), whose situation had attracted concern.

As the law stood, these parents had no right to remain in France and no entitlement to a work permit or benefits, but nor could they be expelled because they had legally resident French dependents.

Local authorities have been instructed to give such people "leave to remain" for one year and the opportunity to regularise their position thereafter.

Yesterday's eviction came only days after Mr Debre announced tougher action on illegal immigration, including the creation of a central body to co-ordinate information and action. He also said that the number of "deportation charters" - special flights repatriating illegal immigrants - would be increased from two to three a month for the rest of this year.

Since 1993, place of birth has not automatically entitled a person to French citizenship, and children born to illegal immigrants after this date can be deported with their parents.People in this category were at the centre of the St Bernard protest, and are demanding that the group be dealt with as a whole, rather than "case by case", as the government insists.