PARIS (Reuters) - France today confirmed it had deported nine Afghan illegal migrants, the second such operation since October, drawing fire from human rights groups and angry politicians in the government's own ranks.
French Immigration Minister Eric Besson told a news conference a British Midland aircraft chartered by Britain's Home Office had flown the refugees home. It was also carrying 21 Afghans who had been arrested in Britain.
The deportees arrived in Kabul this morning.
The deportation was based on a strict application of European policy and that the rules had been "scrupulously respected," Besson added.
In October, France and Britain sent back three Afghans who were arrested during the demolition of a migrant camp dubbed "the jungle" near the port of Calais.
The deportation, part of wider Anglo-French cooperation over immigration, has provoked fury among human rights groups concerned for the welfare of Afghans sent against their will to a country at war.
"I have a certain idea of France and I think the expulsion of Afghan civilians to a country at war is not the France that I love," Fadela Amara, secretary of state for urban policy, said on France Info radio.
"The fact of wanting to send people back at all costs and against their will to a country in total chaos" is leading France "to make up new rules and exercise its sovereignty, including over Afghanistan," said refugee aid group Cimade.
Afghanistan's ambassador to France, Omar Samad, told Reuters that none of the migrants had asked to return to their country, adding: "The Afghan government's position is not to accept forced repatriations."
France and Britain, two major contributors of troops in the Afghan war, agreed in July to toughen border controls and jointly deport migrants.
Thousands of migrants from Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries use France as a launch pad to cross the channel into Britain.