A small rural town in France is integrating asylum seekers

Ferrette, a small town of just 800 people in eastern France, has opened its doors to asylum seekers, who now represent 10 per cent of its population.

The hilltop town, near the border with Switzerland, has taken in about 80 asylum seekers, half of them children, since 2016. These new arrivals, from places such as Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Chechnya and Nigeria, are hoping to be recognised as refugees, or at least receive “subsidiary protection”. Subsidiary protection is a status granted to asylum seekers who do not qualify as refugees but are recognised to require protection.

Mayor Francois Cohendet, said: “The population, which was initially very resistant to the idea, has seen that everything has gone well, that these are discreet people, who keep themselves to themselves and are not aggressive.” He said protestors had initially carried slogans like “Not one migrant in Ferrette” or “This is our home,” in an outcry against taking in asylum seekers.

Europe saw its largest flow of migrants since World War II, with over a million arrivals in 2015. Since then, there has been a need to find new places to host the asylum seekers while they wait to hear on the outcome of their application.

Mayor Cohendet said the first to arrive were “two Sudanese with black skin, wearing sandals in the snow.” While some protested, others supported the asylum seekers with French lessons, cooking classes and lifts to the hospital. The volunteers, called “Neighbours Around the World,” sought to help their new neighbours integrate into their society.

“We involve them in local life, in people’s daily lives — in Bastille Day celebrations, in New Year festivities. Every time we can get them together with the local population we do it,” said Elisabeth Schulthess, head of Neighbours Around the World.

“They told me that Alsace was an area where there was racism but I haven’t felt it,” said a smiling Djoe Kabuka, a Congolese national.

Mayor Cohendet said the main problem with  Ferrette is the lack of public transport and the need to travel to Mulhouse, a town 30 kilometres away, to find the sort of foods the refugees are used to.

“It gets very cold and very hot here,” said a teenager from Nigeria.

The asylum seekers are hosted at an old army barrack that has been transformed into a reception centre. Once they hear on the results of their asylum application, new arrivals have to leave the reception centre. Refugees or individuals with subsidiary protection have three months before they must leave the centre, as they are expected to find jobs and accommodation independently. Individuals whose asylum application have been rejected will be given notice to leave France altogether. In 2018, 54 per cent of the 141 people who came to Ferrette won the status of refugee or subsidiary protection in France.

TMP – 24/05/2019

Photo credit: Oscity/Shutterstock

Photos caption: Ferrette, a small town in France’s Alsace region