Resettle in France? ‘Non, Merci’ Say Refugees

On TV news, refugees are grateful and passive recipients of the noble generosity of European countries who offer them sanctuary. This essay from Arret Sur Image is a reminder that international migrants make their own rational decisions about where they want to go:

What a welcome! What enthusiasm! In the wake of a German announcement that they would take in 800,000 refugees, France has committed to taking in…24,000.

The emblem of this French “generosity”: 200 Syrian and Iraqi refugees arriving by bus from Munich. This transfer of refugees from Germany to France took place on Wednesday, the ninth of September, supervised by the French Office for the Protection of Refugees (OFPRA), with help from the Red Cross; it was followed live by the 24-hour news channels, which were visibly more enthusiastic about the proceedings than the refugees themselves. Because behind the scenes of all this staged French generosity, the reality is that the OFPRA is having trouble finding refugees who are interested in settling in France.

It was a moving spectacle. As the wave of refugees arriving in Germany keeps growing, France, too has consented to welcome them here. The minute that the announcement was made that 200 Iraqi and Syrian refugees would be arriving on Wednesday, BFMTV and Itele leaped into action, covering their journey moment-by moment from the departure of the buses from Munich.

“Those we have met and spoken with have expressed an incredible feeling of gratitude toward France,” gushed the reporter from BFMTV at the Munich departure point. She went on to quote an Iraqi refugee: “I love France. I am eager to come work and live beside you, the people of France.” The atmosphere was so euphoric as the refugees climbed onto the bus that a group of young Syrians were inspired to improvise a song in honor of France. One was said to have sung “I will go and eat a baguette under the Eiffel Tower, and there I will find the medicine that will heal my heart.”

The buses left Munich on Tuesday; they arrived before the television cameras the next morning. The news crews had spent the interim outdoing one another with their live takes describing the “enthusiasm” of the munificent Red Cross volunteers while they awaited the moment when they could film the first steps of the refugees, including their children, on French soil. “The smiles of these children are obviously the quintessential image of this morning,” a reporter for Itele told her live audience.

The refugees were welcomed to Clergy Pontoise (in the Val d’Oise) and Champagne sur Seine (Seine et Marne) among other places, by the Red Cross. The quality of the care they were given was underlined by the News Journals of TF1 and France2 and even France3, who all rushed to film the rooms that had been readied for the migrants. Rooms with “hygiene kits”, “bath towels” as well as “infant formula and baby bottles” for the babies, as explained by the Red Cross head of the “Ile de France Anti-exclusion section”[See this IB article for how France creates accommodation for asylees out of the media eye].

But all of this touching generosity hid a paradoxical situation: France is willing to take in Syrian and Iraqi refugees, but the refugees themselves are not coming forward to move to France.

Though the reporter for BFM seems to have briefly mentioned it during her live report, it was actually the correspondent of France2 in Germany, Amaury Guibert, who said it most openly: the ten OFPRA employees there barely succeeded in rounding up refugees who were willing to settle in France. They even resorted to distributing flyers in Arabic to convince refugees to climb onto the buses.

The reluctance of the refugees to come to France was confirmed by Le Monde reporters. For their “Day of the Migrant” special coverage, (around thirty of their reporters accompanied refugees in France, around Europe and in Africa during the day of Thursday, Sept. 10, posting the events of their day on Twitter), the reporter who was posted in Clergy [near Paris]described the distress of some refugees who had not actually wanted to come to France. A similar assessment came in from Le Monde’s reporter in Munich: France is not one of the destinations hoped for by the refugees.

But why is it that these refugees are reluctant to come to France? Well, contrary to the cliché that migrants try to make it to countries where they can relax and start drawing social welfare benefits, an article in Le Point explains that what actually draws in migrants is the economic dynamism of a country.

And with its unemployment rate of over 10 percent, France is not a first choice for refugees. The proof? “In 2014, the number of asylum seekers in Germany increased by 60 percent, and in Sweden by 50 percent, while in France, it fell by 5 percent,” Le Point writes.

And as for those who did settle in France, their luck was not particularly enviable, according to Le Point: “Immigrants who came to France less than five years ago have an employment level 25 points below people of French origin, while in the rest of Europe, the difference is only about 12 points,” the newspaper adds. This sudden eruption of generosity is failing to attract refugees to France, but at least it is attracting lots of cameras.

Sebastien Rochat Translated from French by International Boulevard