A few weeks ago, French President François Hollande announced the “Calais Jungle” refugee camp would be dismantled, leaving thousands of destitute refugees, including unaccompanied minors, in northern France with nowhere to go. Although many have since been able to submit an asylum claim, it still remains that for months on end these refugees from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea relied on the help of small-scale NGOs and the public, with no assistance from the French government.
Amélie Jacques, a famous French blogger who grew up in Paris and Rome, has lived in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and now resides in Soweto, South Africa. Following the tense situation with refugees in Calais, in a short essay on her blog “Ubuntu” she voiced her concerns about the French government's harsh policies limiting refugees’ entrance into the country. She also contrasted how easy it is for her to travel with a French passport with how difficult it is for people from other countries:
Qu’ils soient réfugiés, demandeurs d’asile, migrants économiques, fuyant la guerre, les persécutions ou cherchant un avenir… tous les migrants devraient pouvoir entrer et s’installer en Europe, en France. Aucun argument ne tient d’un point de vue moral pour refuser à des hommes d’entrer et de rester dans un pays.
Mon pays refuse visa et asile à des hommes, des femmes, des familles qui viennent y chercher la paix, un emploi, etc. A moi pourtant, on ne m’a jamais refusé de traverser une frontière. Pour des vacances en famille, pour étudier ou même pour travailler, à chaque fois c’est une formalité : quelques documents à fournir parfois, quelques dizaines d’euros, éventuellement un vaccin, et hop ! J’ai pu entrer et rester de quelques semaines à plusieurs années en Angleterre, aux États-Unis, en Italie, au Burkina Faso, en Iran, aujourd’hui en Afrique du Sud…
Sur quoi se fonde cette inégalité ? Les Français ne valent pourtant pas mieux que d’autres hommes et femmes pour avoir plus de droits. Plus de droits, ce sont des privilèges ; et en l’occurrence, des privilèges basés sur la naissance car dans notre monde, on naît avec le bon passeport… ou pas. Cette situation d’inégalité de droits est moralement intenable. Soit on nivèle par le bas en cantonnant tous les hommes au territoire où ils sont nés, soit on reconnaît pour tous un droit à migrer.
No matter whether they're refugees, asylum seekers, economic migrants, if they're fleeing war, persecution, or simply looking for a better future … all migrants should be able to come to France and to elsewhere in Europe. There's no moral reasoning not to allow people to come and live in another country.
My country refuses visa and asylum claims submitted by men, women, and families who come in search of peace, work, and so on, yet nobody's ever stopped me from crossing the border to go on a family holiday, to study abroad, or even to work. Each time I travel, there are a few formalities — a bit of paperwork, exchanging or paying a few euros, and last of all getting a vaccination — and then it's off and away! I've been able to come and stay for several weeks — up to several years — in England, the United States, Italy, Burkina Faso, Iran, and now South Africa…
What's this prejudice and inequality based on? French people are no more worthy of rights than other men and women. More than rights, these are privileges. What's more, such privileges are based on where you're born because in our world, you're either born with the right passport or not. Such inequality of rights is devoid of all morality. We either take a step down on the ladder of privilege and confine each person to the country where they were born, or we allow every human being the right to migrate and move out of their own land.
France has long been a nation of immigration with debates surrounding assimilation and secular identity, in particular concerning migrants from former colonial nations such the Maghreb region of Algeria, Morocco and North Africa. However, in the light of the recent refugee crisis, France's response has been rather poor, unlike its European neighbour Germany.
The French government originally committed to welcoming refugees from Syria, but in practice is not a main recipient of refugees from Syria. The UK and France have in fact been locked in a battle of wills in an attempt to pass off responsibility for welcoming refugees. France maintains that these refugees want to reach the UK, whilst the UK government neither wants to fully open its doors.
As a whole, Europe remains divided on the issue of resettling refugees from war-torn countries, and some members of the European Union continue to express hostility to the idea.