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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Une rentrée sans chaise vide ?

by Ludovic Thomas

France: Back-to-School without Empty Chairs?

Translated Tuesday 5 September 2006, by Shaila Kamath

No official papers.

Not precisely knowing the fate reserved for their families, tens of thousands of pupils will go to school with an uncertainty of continuation and eventually the fear of being expelled from France.

The Scenario of going-back-to-school.

30,000 requests for regularization filed within the scope of the Sarkozy circular of June 13, about 50,000 children living under the threat of a possible expulsion, a quota of 6,000 persons to be regularized, a figure fixed arbitrarily by Minister of the Interior, the rule enacted by the same minister who said any person "unsuited" by the prefectures will have to leave the territory, and finally, non-stop demonstrations demanding respect of the right to education and to a decent life.

How many chairs are likely to remain empty in the classrooms on Monday, day of the re-opening of the schools, and in the weeks to come? In other words: how many agreements is Nicolas Sarkozy ready to abandon so as to lure the extreme right electorate? For the Education without borders Network (RESF), the situation of thousands of children of such families is not just a mathematical equation.

take a risk…

“During the re-opening, we will not tolerate any empty chair. If children should be hidden, the risk will be taken”, says Richard Moyon, one of the spokesman of RESF. In many schools, the network has distributed an official statement urging all the staff concerned “not to yield to any pressures, from wherever ..., or whoever is making them, however convincing they may be, against compulsory education”.

Arno Klarsfeld, the official arbitrator claims that about sixty families are in the file for potential approval, out of which only five or six “will be given attention”. A questionable statement made at the time when, even the PEEP, federation of parents of students, neutral on the question of those without any official papers until now, met the media lawyer yesterday, to give him several files. The latter has, however, justified expulsion of the Makombo family next month - which had pressed on Nicolas Sarkozy to stop expulsions in the school period – on the pretext that their “good integration (...) is of doubtful validity”.

… disobedience if necessary

Within the government, the topic is getting a high profile. Cautioning Sarkozy, his number two, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, reaffirmed, on Thursday, that there would be “no massive regularization” in favor of the parents of school children asking only to live in France. The same day, the Minister for Education, Gilles de Robien, declared: “In the schools, there can be questions only as chilldren leave the school buildings …” With a few hours remaining for the re-opening of the schools, the situation remains at the very least fuzzy for many families. If the students whose parents were "nonsuited" are clearly threatened with being questioned in view of renewed troubles at the border, others do not know yet the fate reserved for their parents, some having received a convocation for October.

The victimization of the children is perhaps not over. The fact remains that public opinion does not always approve of the way in which Nicolas Sarkozy deals with foreign children and where this might lead, according to the associations deeply involved in the mobilization. Even if it means pushing, if necessary, the obligation of solidarity as far as civil disobedience.

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