PARIS -- France's new government deported a planeload of illegal immigrants last week, moving quickly to demonstrate that it will take a tough line against illegal entry. But its decision to start expelling large numbers of foreigners has brought loud protests from human rights groups.
With recent municipal elections showing a surge of support for the extreme rightist National Front, President Jacques Chirac's government seems eager to be seen addressing the growing fear among many French that Third World immigration is out of hand.
As a result, rather than quietly repatriating illegal immigrants, Jean-Luis Debre, the interior minister, has made a point of announcing that in the past month France has shipped out at least three planeloads of foreigners, two to Romania and one to Zaire.
He said that similar charter flights will be planned weekly and that two are already scheduled, for Zaire and Algeria.
"If we want to integrate legal immigrants, we must be intractable with illegal immigrants," Mr. Debre said.
Although TV cameras were not allowed to record this week's deportation of 43 people to Zaire, human rights groups charged that a number of the deportees were restrained in such a way that they could hardly move.
The group included 16 men who were accused or convicted of crimes. Five were women, and three were small children.
In Paris, newspapers and half a dozen human rights groups denounced the deportations, saying such a policy wrongly blamed foreigners for France's social problems.
Yet nationwide polls regularly show that a majority of the French favor measures to discourage new legal immigration and to fight illegal immigration, particularly from the Third World. The strongest support for the National Front, led by Jean Marie Le Pen, comes from French cities and regions with high concentrations of immigrants.
During his presidential campaign this year, Mr. Le Pen said he pTC wanted to expel 3 million foreigners and to cut all welfare payments to non-French residents.
Of the estimated 4 million foreigners living in France legally and illegally, more than half are believed to come from Third World nations, mainly from the former French colonies of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, but also increasingly from former French colonies in West Africa.
Most of the 81 people repatriated to Romania in this month's two charter flights were Gypsies. Authorities said they belonged to clans of more than 1,200 Romanian Gypsies who have settled around Lyon in the past few years. This year, France has put Romania on its list of countries whose citizens do not need political asylum.