French Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux, about to switch jobs, considers his mission accomplished at the ministry he created, with "unprecedented" numbers of illegal immigrants sent home in 2008.
Human rights and immigrant groups said, however, that the numbers announced by Hortefeux _ dubbed "minister of fear" by pro-immigrant groups _ do not reflect reality.
Hortefeux told a news conference Tuesday that, "for the first time in a generation, the number of illegal immigrants has started to decline in France," with the "real rupture" occurring in voluntary departures.
He said one-third of the 29,796 people sent back to their homelands last year, or 10,072, had gone voluntarily.
By comparison, in 2006 _ before the Immigration Ministry existed _ only 7 percent of immigrants sent home took advantage of a so-called "voluntary departure" program, under which migrants are given a cash incentive of