Fear, Suspicion for Migrants in France 09/28 06:06
CHAMPTERCIER, France (AP) -- Residents of Champtercier fear their hamlet in
the foothills of the Alps is about to become a new flashpoint for Europe's
migrant crisis: Its population of 800 is slated to grow sharply when it takes
in 100 migrants from an overflowing camp in Calais next month.
Hundreds of suspicious residents are petitioning to keep the newcomers out
and a minor presidential candidate has taken up their cause. Similar resistance
has surfaced in other towns as the government prepares to shut the Calais camp
and send as many as 9,000 migrants to 164 sites around France where they can
apply for asylum and get reliable shelter, food and medical care.
The mayor, who agreed to accommodate the migrants in a shuttered vacation
resort on the edge of Champtercier, is distraught at what she sees as an
irrational, overblown reaction.
"It's a question of humanity, a question of solidarity toward Calais, toward
those people who are victims. They are victims first of war, of trafficking, of
all they had to live through" in Calais, Mayor Regine Ailhaud-Blanc told The
She initially offered to take in two or three refugee families, and was
taken aback when the regional administration announced that it would instead be
100 single young men from Sudan and Eritrea.
But the mayor remains committed to the idea of helping those in the
so-called jungle camp in Calais, a filthy slum home to a growing population of
migrants from the Mideast and Africa trying to cross the English Channel and
reach Britain. The camp has become a symbol of Europe's botched response to the
migrant crisis, and a disgrace for the government of France.
So the government is sending the migrants to places like Champtercier,
nearly 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) away. Those who come here will not be in
the center of town but in a cluster of small buildings and bungalows unused
Panicked about the arriving migrants, Champtercier's residents created a
Facebook page and online petition to ask the mayor to reject the migrants, due
to arrive Oct. 15. The vacation center's management company, Villages Club du
Soleil, will receive 18 euros a day to care for each migrant, according to the
regional administration. The migrants will also have 7 euros a day in pocket
The town hall and regional administration held a meeting Monday to address
the concerns. Instead of calming tensions, the meeting turned into a forum for
expressing fear and hatred of migrants. Anti-Muslim sentiment was pervasive,
even though roughly half of Eritreans are Christian. Many complained that
taxpayer money would go to foreigners instead of needy French people.
Security is a prominent, but vague, fear.
"I'm afraid. If I take the children to school, I take my daughter alone to
school, if my husband is not there what is going to happen? If some of them are
sitting there, if we refuse to give them cigarettes or stuff like this, this
may cause problems," said Caroline Sorriaux.
Another concern is the relatively large number of migrants.
"I think, as human beings, we have the same values. I am very open to
hosting strangers. My concern is the number --- around 100 people --- and how
it will take place," said craftsman Bernard Perez.
Others were less accommodating.
"We know very well that gathering people like this, you create problems,"
said teacher Nathalie Davin-Baro. "You think the blue sky and lavender will
change their behavior?"
The regional administration, or prefecture, said authorities chose to put
100 people in one spot because it is cheaper. In addition to food and shelter,
migrants will have access to French classes and medical care, and a free
shuttle to travel 10 kilometers (six miles) to the nearest administrative
center to pursue the lengthy process of asylum applications.
President Francois Hollande says migrants will stay in the reception centers
for up to about four months while authorities study their cases.
As in the U.S. elections, immigration is emerging as a key campaign issue
for France's presidential race. France has seen rising support for the
nationalist views of far right candidate Marine Le Pen of the National Front,
which is resisting the plan to spread Calais' migrants around France.
Former President Nicolas Sarkozy, also a candidate, increasingly espouses
similar views. A minor conservative candidate, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, took up
the cause of the suspicious Champtercier residents, visiting and posting an
online video urging them to "resist."
Despite resistance, the mayor wants to stay optimistic.
"These fears are completely irrational. It's the fear of the stranger, fear
of what we don't know," she said. "That's why I invite people to come and meet
them, talk with them and maybe know more about their stories. To understand."