France refuses entry to women over veil

A police union says three Saudi women who refused to remove their face veils at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport have been barred entry to France. A 2011 French law bans people from wearing Islamic face-covering veils anywhere in public. An official with the SGP-FO police union said yesterday that border police asked the women to remove their veils after they arrived on Monday on a flight from Doha, Qatar.

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The official says the women refused, and in turn border police refused them entry in France, and they returned to Doha. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly for the police. Supporters of the ban say the veil contradicts France’s principles of secularism and women’s rights. 

Some Muslim groups say it stigmatises moderate Muslims. Nicolas Sarkozy’s government introduced a ban on all forms of Islamic head coverings, including the niqab and the burqa, last year. Islamic-rights campaigners said it was ‘unconstitutional’ but Sarkozy said the ban was not aimed at persecuting Muslims, merely part of an effort to make France a more tolerant, inclusive society.

When it was introduced, he said the ban was aimed at stopping criminals — from terrorists to shoplifters — disguising their faces from security staff and CCTV. France became the first country in Europe to outlaw the veil, while similar legislation has since been passed in Belgium and Holland. One has been mooted in Britain by a number of politicians, including Conservative backbenchers, but there are no immediate plans to introduce one. 

Face the music
Women face a fine of up to 150 euros (Rs 10,000) or enforced citizenship training if caught breaking the ban, whilst men who force women to wear the niqab or burqa face a fine of 30,000 euros. According to France’s interior ministry, approximately 300 women were caught breaking the law during its first year in practice, however senior police officers have admitted that it is “unenforceable”, and that “burqa-chasing” is not high on police priority lists.

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