Josiane Nardi suffered third-degree burns to almost her entire body after dousing herself with flammable liquid and setting herself alight in front of a detention centre in the western city of
She was rushed to the burn victims unit at
Mayor Jean-Claude Boulard ordered an investigation to be opened and said it must provide answers on "how a woman was led to make the ultimate sacrifice to save her companion."
An illegal immigrant, Nardi’s 31-year-old partner Henrik Orujyan had been serving a two-year jail sentence for various crimes before being transferred to a pre-deportation centre.
He was released late Saturday due to medical reasons and placed under house arrest, according to a rights group.
Nardi had arranged to meet local media to draw attention to the plight of her companion.
But journalists said they were unaware of her intention to set herself alight and unable to prevent her from doing so.
"She took out a bottle of alcohol, and when we approached her, it was too late," said a witness.
One reporter was taken to hospital suffering from shock, another with slight burns to a hand.
A rights group said the incident raised fresh questions about
"This act of absolute despair, which unfortunately will lead to others, is an unbearable reminder of the ravages of this brutal, cruel and inefficient policy," said Mouloud Aounit, president of the Movement against racism and for friendship between peoples (MRAP).
The French government has set a target for 2008 of deporting 25,000 illegal immigrants. Last year, it fell short of that target by some 1,000 deportations.
But government spokesman Luc Chatel said the case had little to do with illegal immigration and stressed that Orujyan had three criminal convictions.
He said Orujyan had often challenged deportation orders even though he "has strong family ties in
"This is not a case involving an undocumented worker but a deportation order given by a judge based on three convictions," Chatel said in a radio interview.