Saturday

18th Nov 2017

France reluctant to host large numbers of refugees

  • A Syrian woman with her child. 55 percent of French people refuse to lossen asylum rules for Syrians. (Photo: UNHCR)

Europe's refugees crisis has revealed rifts in a French society at unease with itself.

According to a poll published on Sunday (6 September) by Le Parisien newspaper, 55 percent of French are opposed to imitate Germany and loosen rules for Syrian asylum seekers.

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Sixty two percent say Syrians should be treated like all other migrants, with 36 percent saying that Syrians should get special treatment as war refugees.

In the meantime, 10,000 people demonstrated in Paris and other cities on Saturday to express their support to the refugees and protest against "repressive policies" against migrants.

Initiatives to host refugees at home are also booming. "We get 700 demands each day," the founder of the Singa NGO told 20 Minutes newspaper.

Some municipalities also said they would welcome refugees, and on Saturday (12 September), the ministry of interior wil organise a meeting with mayors "to make concrete in the best conditions the propositions of welcome".

The president of the French mayors' association, former interior and finance minister Francois Baroin, said however that he would not host refugees in his town, for a lack of housing capacities.

"We cannot have Calais everywhere in France," he said, referring to the northern town when 3,000 migrants live in camps and try to cross the Channel to Britain.

"The situation of France is not good. it is not good economically, it is not good socially. Are we able to welcome this people on the long term? No. Some countries can; Germany, Sweden, Austria."

Contrary to economically healthy and self-confident Germany, where almost a million refugees are expected this year and where a majority of the population is ready to welcome refugees, France is reluctant to do more.

On Thursday (3 September), president Francois Hollande reached an agreement with German chancellor Angela Merkel to push for a "permament and mandatory mechanism" to share refugees at EU level.

But this announcement, made after the photo of a dead three-year old boy on a Turkish beach made the headlines, seemed to be more a way to stick to Germany and keep a lead in Europe.

In May, when the EU Commission proposed to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers in member states, Hollande said that "migrant quotas are out of questions because we have rules" to manage borders.

Incidentally, France was one of the only countries where the photo of Aylan Kurdi, the dead Syrian child, did not make newspapers frontpages when it was published. French media reacted with delay, prompting criticism over French lack of interest and sensitivity about the refugees crisis.

On Sunday, far-right leader Marine Le Pen said the picture was made to "make people feel guilty".

"They want us to stop thinking. We have no lessons to be taught, especially when they throw the death of a child in our face to push their sinister project forward," she said.

Le Pen added that France is experiencing an "economical migration in a economically worn out country" and that "islamist fundamentalism will grow even more with this uncontrolled immigration".

Le Pen, who is first in most opinion polls ahead of the 2017 presidential election, often sets the tone in the migration debate at the detriment of Hollande's socialist government, which still has few economic achievements to show.

When Hollande goes to Brussels at the October EU summit, or when his interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve goes to the emergency ministers meeting on 14 September, they will try to defend a EU common policy based on voluntarism for refugees quotas.

But at home, a large part of the public would be more ready to support tougher positions, like those of Hungary's Viktor Orban, who said he doesn't want large numbers of Muslims in his country.

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