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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: « Désormais, les réfugiés vivent comme nous et avec nous »

by Émilien Urbach

“Now, the refugees live like us, with us”

Translated Wednesday 30 November 2016, by Adrian Jordan

The government’s announcement of the creation of new reception and orientation centres in all regions of France is facing severe opposition from xenophobes on the extreme right. However, throughout solidarian communities, there has been a resounding welcome.

“We have always been ready to welcome migrants, I am not afraid of the ‘antis’”, smiled Dominique Bidet, the communist mayor of Bellenaves and chairman of the Association of Rural Mayors of Allier, who had just welcomed two Syrian families to his community. “It is going very well!” the councillor was happy to add, having the support of the majority of his 1,003 citizens.

Like many local officials across the whole of France, he is among those who observe, once any initial apprehension has dissipated, that the reality of welcoming refugees into a community is far from the catastrophe portrayed by the extreme right and certain members of “The Republicans” (Les Républicains). The experience of the past few months have proved to be reassuringly uneventful. For several days, interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve and his housing minister, Emmanuelle Cosse, have tried to present a new face of the executive while defending their project to create 8,200 new places in reception and orientation centres (CAOs, from the French, centres d’accueil et d’orientation). These centres would accommodate the exiles, abandoned by the government, left to live in shanty towns, counting on just the ardent support of thousands of militants. Then the executive expects to be able to rapidly rase the Calais “Jungle”, where, today, almost 10,000 refugees are still amassed.

The announcement may seem to be too little too late, and doomed to failure if it remains the sole response to the real problems posed by the humanitarian crisis facing France and the European Union. However, it suffices for the extreme right to let loose the dogs. The Front National (FN) have unmuzzled party vice-president Steeve Briois, with the launch of his mayor’s association, My Town Without Migrants. Among “The Republicans”, it is down to Christian Estrosi, president of the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur region, and his homologue in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, Laurent Wauquiez, to bare their teeth. The latter, even inviting “all local councillors and residents who do not want to just stand by, to prevent a scheme which goes against common sense to be imposed against their wishes”, accusing the government of wanting to “reproduce Calais throughout France.” These supporters of isolationism hope to ride the wave of inquiétude which stirs the people and above all, hope to make it grow, as in Allex, in Drôme, or in Forges-les-Bains, in Essone, in the expectation of accruing a few votes in the next elections.

It is possible to act humanely and responsibly

However, the reality of this welcome in the dozens of CAOs already in existence is light-years away from this discourse of hatred. From all over, officials bear witness to the smooth reception of the refugees at a local level when undertaken with community spirit. Since November 2015, in the Limousine town of Peyrat-le-Château, socialist mayor, Stéphane Cambou, has welcomed around fifty people from the shanty towns of Calais for long and short stays, at the Communal Centre for Social Action (Centre communal d’action sociale – CCAS) owned by state electricity company, EDF. “Not everything passes without issue,” he explains, describing the residents of his town as “sometimes reticent and inquiet”. “However, in the end, things go well” and “the migrants have made a place for themselves”. For him, as in the majority of solidarian communities, fears have been allayed by showing the people that he has “made available all necessary means to support the framework” of reception and, equally, because the “whole gamut of associations played their part”.

Sometimes, those who Estrosi and Briois would prefer to leave refugees to drown in the sea rather than populate our villages, actually save and bring dynamism to our declining communities. That is what happened in Peyrelevade, in Corrèze, on the Millevaches plateau. In April 2016, the former retirement home was opened to receive 60 refugees from Syria, Sudan, Eritrea and other eastern countries, with left wing mayor, Pierre Coutaud, stating that he not only wished to take a “humanitarian step” but also to start a “local development project”. In fact, the long abandoned building was restored and the local primary school escaped closure thanks to the schooling of immigrant children. In the pioneering Côte-d’Or community of Pouilly-en-Auxois, the February 2015 arrival of migrants divided the 1,600 inhabitants. A year later, the migrants “live like us, with us”, stated the independent mayor, Bernard Milloir.

In Calais, solidarian associations working in the shanty town were received by the minister who wished to dissipate uncertainty over the fate of the migrants sent to CAOs, whose fingerprints were taken Greece or Italy on their arrival in Europe. For these refugees, the Dublin Regulation envisages that they should be returned to the country of entry. The associations are equally concerned for the 900 solitary minors who cannot, theoretically, be taken to the new centres created by Bernard Cazeneuve. As for those with family ties in England, they hope France will be more vociferous in the attempt to get the British to allow more regrouping of families.

However, faced with the media rancor created by elected xenophobes, Bernard Cazeneuve does not really seem to have decided to dissociate himself from the political right from which he has frequently found support in recent years. Yesterday, he did not hesitate to announce the expulsion of several exiles on a “flight from Calais, with 30 persons in an irregular situation”. Since the start of the year “it is the 56th flight of this type that has been organised,” he proudly stated, announcing that, in 2016, 1,384 people had been returned to the border from Calais.

This in contrast to all those communities that accept migrants with dignity and show it is possible to act humanely and responsibly.

2016, the deadliest year for the exiles

“The number of refugees and migrants reaching European shores this year passed the 300,000 mark today” declared United Nations Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson, William Spindler, during a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday (20/09/2016). Although this figure is 42 percent lower in respect of the whole of 2015, it remains higher than the 216,054 persons recorded for the whole of 2014. It also hides a much greater tragedy: 3,211 people dead or lost in the first nine months of the year: “At this rate, 2016 will be the deadliest year on record in the Mediterranean Sea”, added Mr Spindler. During the month of September 2015, 3,000 of our fellow people fleeing war or poverty similarly perished, with a total of 3,771 recorded by the end of the year.

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