France confirms it will receive 30,000 refugees
By Eric Maurice
France will receive 30,000 refugees in the next two years, president Francois Hollande confirmed Wednesday (18 November).
The figure had first been announced by prime minister Manuel Valls in September.
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But what had been interpreted as French reluctance to play its part in relieving other countries facing massive arrivals can now, in the wake of Friday's Paris terror attacks, be seen as a political gesture.
"Some want to establish a link between the influx of refugees coming from the Middle-East and the terrorist threat," Hollande noted in a speech to the congress of French mayors.
"The truth is that this link exists, because inhabitants of areas in Iraq and Syria are fleeing because they are being murdered by those who are attacking us today."
Hollande reminded his listeners that "France accepted playing its part in showing solidarity towards these refugees and towards Europe" and confirmed that "30,000 will be welcomed in the next two years".
In September, Valls said on TV that "France will not take more than 30,000 asylum seekers."
"We have to show solidarity, generosity, humanity … but at the same time, we have to master" the flow, he said.
"We cannot welcome to Europe all those who flee dictatorship in Syria."
On Wednesday, however, Hollande stressed that the "duty of humanity towards the refugees goes hand in hand with the duty to protect the French people".
He said that France will continue to "do the necessary checking before accepting refugees on [its] territory".
Hollande's declaration comes as voices in France and Europe called for a change in EU refugee policy.
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen called Monday to "immediately stop receiving migrants" and to "scatter" on French territory those already present.
On Wednesday, the new Polish right-wing prime minister Beata Szydlo renewed criticism over the EU refugee relocation mechanism.
"Attempts to export a problem that certain countries have themselves created without the input of other members cannot be called solidarity," Szydlo said in her first address to parliament.
Her EU affairs minister, Konrad Szymanski, said on Saturday that "in the face of the tragic events in Paris, Poland sees no political possibilities for implementing the decision on the relocation of refugees".
The views of the new Polish government echo those of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban.
"In light of this terror attack, Brussels cannot challenge the right of member states to defend themselves," Orban said. "Mandatory resettlement quotas are dangerous because they would spread terrorism across Europe."
In Germany, Bavaria's conservative finance minister, Markus Soeder, said Sunday that Europe "must protect itself better from enemies who will stop at nothing."
“The era of uncontrolled immigration and illegal immigration cannot go on like this. Paris changes everything," he said in an interview to the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.
Germany's federal defense minister Ursula Von der Leyen, however, also a conservative, retorted that "we must not make the mistake of equating refugees with terrorists."
The same position was expressed by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.
In the Czech republic, the social-democrat president Milos Zeman did not refer to the attacks. On Tuesday, though, he joined a meeting organized by an anti-Islam group and attended by Germany's Pegida movement.
"People should not be put in opinion straightjackets and should be able to think differently," he said at the meeting.
According to figures from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 3,802 migrants entered Greece, their main first country of arrival in Europe, on Wednesday alone.