by Colin Randall in Lyons

The Daily Telegraph (LONDON)
July 3, 2006 Monday

TWELVE-YEAR-OLD Edi is Ecuadorian but speaks good French. He enjoys
geometry, history and art and regards 11-year-old Valentin as his
closest friend.

The two boys - "like two brothers", according to Valentin's mother -
will be seeing even more of each other in the coming weeks.

As one of the symbols of an emotive campaign to save the children of
illegal immigrants from being deported from France, Edi has moved in
with his friend's family in a village outside Lyons.

Throughout France, scores of mostly middle-class parents are giving
refuge to children of the so-called sans papiers - foreigners with
no legal right to stay.

France, facing the same immigration pressures as neighbouring
countries, wants to expel 26,000 immigrants this year and has passed
a law imposing strict residency requirements.

With schools about to break up for summer, an official pause on
enforcing expulsion orders is coming to an end. But in a highly
organised operation that has been likened by some to the French
Resistance's concealment of Jews in the Second World War, the Reseau
Education Sans Frontieres (RESF) pressure group is dispersing children
to the homes of volunteers.

Activists accuse the interior minister behind the crackdown, Nicolas
Sarkozy, of mounting a "child hunt" to court the anti-immigration
vote in next year's presidential elections. They hope to block his
plans by exploiting a law insisting that families can be deported
only as a whole.

The campaign is gathering strength. Sympathetic Left-wing mayors
are holding symbolic "adoption" ceremonies, in which parents promise
shelter to children facing expulsion, while protest marches are staged
almost daily. Airport workers have also threatened to disrupt forced

Edi, one of six children, has lived in France for five years. His
"protectors" are Jean Riot-Sarcey, 59, who has a senior job in
education, and his wife Sandrine, 34.

"He will spend the two months of the summer holidays with us as part
of our family," said Mr Riot-Sarcey. "We want to force France to
respect its philosophical and humanitarian values."

He claims that Edi and his siblings would be in danger of being
kidnapped for forced labour or the illicit human organs trade if they
were returned to Ecuador. "There are comparisons to be made between us
and the people who hid Jews during the war, even if the consequences
are not so grave," Mr Riot-Sarcey said.

While he did not risk prosecution for harbouring a child, he knows
that he will be liable to fines or even imprisonment if he proceeds
with plans to take in an adult next month.

Mr Sarkozy has said regional administrators will act "firmly but
humanely" in examining each case for residency on merit.

Applicants must have been settled in France for at least two years.

At least one child must be attending a French school and have no link
with the country of his or her parents.

In the Lyons area alone, RESF supporters expect to be sheltering dozens
of children during the school holidays. Across France, the figure
may run into thousands. Valerie, 44, an actress who has taken in a
10-year-old boy, said her three children would be shocked and upset
if Alex, one of two sons of an illegal immigrant from Azerbaijan,
were taken from their home and expelled.

Alex's mother, Samira, and her children would be deported to Germany,
the country from which they arrived in France and where they previously
applied for residency.

RESF says this would inevitably lead to them being sent back via
Russia to Azerbaijan where they risked persecution because of their
Armenian origins.

Valerie said: "My gesture is not intellectually or politically driven,
but a matter of instinct. What is happening is wrong. Alex is safe
while he is in my house but I worry that he might be picked up when
he is outside."

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress