Paris (CNSNews.com) – A dozen inhabitants and merchants in a small town in the south of France this week built a wall, six feet high and 60 feet long, in a bid to prevent authorities from using a local former hotel to house migrants due to start arriving in several days’ time.
The wall is intended as a barrier to prevent access to a disused hotel in the town of Séméac, where authorities want to accommodate 85 migrants as part of a national government scheme.
The opponents of the plan said in a statement they were not opposed to the reception of migrants per se, but were unhappy with the “opaque process” and lack of consultation.
“We must do something for these people in difficulty,” said Laurent Teixeira, head of the ad-hoc group calling itself Collectif Séméac. “But the citizens must also be taken into account.”
The opponents denounced the fact no-one had sought the town inhabitants’ opinion before taking the decision to house them in the town.
They also said there are no facilities to provide for migrants in their daily lives, and asked how they would eat or send their children to school.
Concerned about the possibility of lawsuits that could put the plan on hold indefinitely, the prefecture (local government authority) of the region brought together the opposition group, town representatives and human rights organizations in an effort to resolve the dispute.
The protest group has now decided after discussions about the proposal – and after receiving “threats” that Teixeira would not elaborate on – to dismantle the wall.
But the incident in the small town has highlighted broader problems resulting from a government announcement this month that it will create migrant shelters for 12,500 for asylum seekers by 2019, spread across the country and not limited to big cities.
State-owned bank Caisse de Dépots plans to buy 62 low-cost hotels that belong to the French group Accor – including the one in Séméac – to turn them into shelters.
Most of the migrants come from the Middle East and North Africa, and include Syrians, Afghans and Moroccans.
Many head for Paris, where their presence has led to clashes with local residents; or – especially in the case of Sudanese and Eritreans – to Calais in the north, camping illegally while they hope to make it across the Channel to Britain.
Last October the government shut down an informal migrants’ camp in Calais known as the Jungle and around 6,000 inhabitants were rehoused across the country while waiting for their applications to remain to be processed.
Migrants whose applications are rejected should in principle be expelled to their country of origin unless it a warzone, although many stay, prompting calls by some politicians for the system to be tightened up.
While campaigning for the presidency, President Emmanuel Macron pledged to find a “humane” solution to immigration.
One proposal under consideration would open accommodation across the country where migrants would be monitored while having their applications for permission to live in France processed. Those refused permission would be systematically deported.
The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, asked the government this month to pass a law that will make it easier for large cities to receive as many migrants as possible without creating problems with citizens.
One proposals under consideration would provide more funds to mayors like her to build and manage shelters.
Human rights groups say the government plan to house an additional 12,500 asylum seekers is not enough.
According to Jean-François Ploquin, president of the non-governmental organization France Refugees-Cosi, some 100,000 migrants have applied for asylum in France but there are only 55,000 accommodation spaces available.
The group does support the creation of reception centers throughout the country, with Ploquin telling a press conference it was necessary to “deconcentrate” the situation in Paris, where most migrants and refugees tend to head first.