Even if they are not immediately deported, people who have committed a criminal offense in France receive a letter telling them what the state expects of them.
“Each year, the French Republic welcomes people from other countries. One of the conditions for this is strict compliance with the rules and laws that govern its territory, “quoted the newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche from a model letter, which concludes with a warning:” Any new crime will entail a new examination of your residence status, which could oblige you to leave France.
Along with this initiative, the government has also released new figures on evictions. There are approximately 23,000 names on France’s Watchlist for the Prevention of Terrorist Radicalization (FSPRT). Of the 1,115 people identified whose residence status was irregular, statistics show that 601 foreigners have been returned to their country of origin in the past three years – more than half. Of the remaining 514 “potential terrorists”, many are currently serving prison terms or are in detention awaiting deportation.
Profile of the abuser changed
More than 250 people have been killed in terrorist attacks in France in recent years. Regional governments of various political persuasions have responded by introducing tougher laws. But the issue of deportation has become more controversial, in part because the standard profile of such an abuser has changed.
“More recently, the authors are no longer French citizens who grew up in France and went to French schools. For two or three years, it has been more of foreign nationals, some of whom have a legal status in France – as asylum seekers for example – while others are illegally staying ”, explains Marc Hecker, expert in terrorism. and research director at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. He traces this development in his new book, “The Twenty Years’ War” [The Twenty Years War].
It is a change that poses major challenges for policy makers. Many countries refuse to take back radicalized citizens. If they agree to do so, the lives of the deportees may be in danger in their country of origin. The case of Djamel Beghal, convicted of terrorism in France in 2005 and subsequently accused of having played an important role in the radicalization of the Charlie Hebdo attackers in Paris, shows how, in the past, deportation quarrels could last long time.
Beghal, of Algerian nationality, arrived in France in 1987 at the age of 21 and had been on the radar of the security services since the 1990s. Although he was stripped of his French nationality in 2006, his deportation to Algeria failed at the time for humanitarian reasons.
Host countries overwhelmed
On the French side, the role played by such considerations has clearly changed. France still does not deport people to war zones, but the list of countries to which it does not deport has shortened over the years. Djamel Beghal was deported to Algeria three years ago, immediately after his release from prison.
The number of repatriations to Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco has increased dramatically following negotiations with Maghreb countries – and this in turn has had an impact on the security situation there.
In the 2010s, around 25,000 men and women from Tunisia alone attempted to join the civil war in Syria. About 4,500 did get there – and many have been back for a long time, posing a huge challenge for security agencies in their home countries. Terrorism expert Marc Hecker comments that “sending radicalized people to countries which do not have the same surveillance capacities as France naturally increases the problem for these countries”.
However, the expulsions are also supported by the French political opposition, not least because the resources of the French state are also limited. “The FSPRT’s database of radicalized individuals currently includes around 23,000 people, of which around 8,000 are considered active,” Hecker explains. “It’s a lot for a country like France. It is also evident from the number of attacks in recent months and years that the intelligence services are not infallible.
Lighten the burden on security agencies
And it is not only the large number of people on the list of “potential terrorists” that pushes the French surveillance system to its limits. Experts are also concerned that the perpetrators of the most recent attacks were not on intelligence radar at all.
Abdoulakh A., born in Chechnya, was unknown to them before assassinating history professor Samuel Paty in October 2020, as was the Tunisian assassin who killed three people in a church in Nice shortly after. Marc Hecker explains that the Nice striker “was in France irregularly, and only entered the country very shortly before. In fact, it only arrived in Europe from Tunisia a month before the attack. Another Tunisian attacker, a 36-year-old man who stabbed and killed a police administrative worker at a Rambouillet police station last April, was also unknown to authorities.