Refugee Crisis

France is Shirking its Duties

French President Francois Hollande (C-L) and Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani (C-R) embrace at the Mar Yousef church, which is sheltering displaced Iraqi Christians, in the Christian village of Ankawa, north of Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq on September 12, 2014. Hollande said during a visit to Baghdad that France is ready to step up military assistance for Iraq, as global efforts to defeat jihadist fighters intensified. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED SAWAF (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED SAWAF/AFP/Getty Images)
French President François Hollande (C-L) and Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani (C-R) embrace in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq on September 12, 2014.  
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    If France, one of the Europe’s leading economies, won’t step up to the plate in this refugee crisis, it sets a bad example for smaller, poorer, E.U. nations.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The French government has undertaken military actions such as air strikes in Libya and Syria.
    • France has four times fewer refugees per 1,000 inhabitants than Sweden.
    • The governmental real-estate authority said last week that there are at least 20,000 places available in state-owned buildings in France,
    •  
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

Commentaries on the refugee crisis point fingers at two parties: the heartless east Europeans and the German chancellor who listens too closely to her heart. No one dares out the biggest offender: France, which bears a large share of responsibility for the ever-worsening crisis.

From the former rightist President Nicolas Sarkozy to his leftist successor François Hollande, there has been an astonishing continuity of policies that favor flight-promoting actions while fending off refugees.

Mr. Sarkozy bombed the empire of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to smithereens without having the faintest idea about what should replace it. The hyperactive conservative provoked a mini-Iraq, allowing al-Qaeda and the Islamic State to funnel refugees to Europe as a commercial undertaking.

So far, his successor, Mr. Hollande, hasn’t tried to change much. At least he sent soldiers to Mali to limit the spread of terror from Libya in a southerly direction. Mr. Hollande would have been happy to bomb another dictator out of office, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, but now he wants to conduct air strikes in Syria against the Islamic State and is cozying up to Mr. Assad.

It’s an astounding change of course, since it is blindingly obvious by now that escalating a war in the air doesn’t create fewer refugees.

It may be vigorous in its military behavior, but the French government is reticent when it comes to accepting refugees. The trek undertaken by hundreds of thousands leads from Hungary through Austria and Germany all the way to Sweden. This spring, however, when migrants sought to open a new route from Italy to France, the country got rough, closing its border at Ventimiglia while police forced the refugees back to Italy.

Just 30,000 additional refugees will be accepted by a country that prides itself on being the fifth-largest economic power in the world?

France’s political elite celebrates the nation as a model for humanity throughout the world, yet it pursues an unwavering policy of deterring refugees. Its quota for granting asylum is clearly below the average for the European Union and lodging is rarely provided: The total amounts to 25,000 with an additional 20,000 emergency accommodations, almost entirely in hotels.

But far more beds could be provided. The governmental real-estate authority this week calculated there are at least 20,000 places immediately available in state-owned buildings.

It’s not only in the vicinity of the Channel Tunnel in Calais, but also in large cities like Paris governed by the Left, where thousands of migrants live in tents or under the open sky, often for months on end.

What meager provisions they receive are primarily from the voluntary participation of many French citizens, who give them food and medicine along with instruction in the language. Last weekend, two large camps within the city were emptied and their residents finally given permanent accommodations.

The tough policy has palpable consequences. France has four times fewer refugees per 1,000 inhabitants than Sweden. During his most recent press conference, Mr. Hollande said the number of asylum seekers admitted would remain largely constant. He voiced vehement opposition to a call by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker for fixed quotas for the distribution of refugees.

Mr. Hollande relented only when Berlin showed itself ready to relieve the pressure on the initial reception centers in Greece, Hungary and Italy. He didn’t want to be shown up by Ms. Merkel, the ice-cold proponent of relentless austerity.

Mr. Hollande came around at the last moment, but there are such restrictions that the quotas cannot be put into practice. Just 30,000 additional refugees will be accepted by a country that prides itself on being the fifth-largest economic power in the world? Who can expect much help from the poorer E.U. countries of eastern Europe when France’s own contribution is so weak?

Mr. Hollande holds the key to defusing the refugee crisis, but no one is demanding he use it. He talks his way out by arguing the far right Front National is so powerful. But the truth is he is too scared to exercise political leadership. He would have support from the majority of French citizens, who are willing to accept more refugees.

Because of its partnership with France, Germany feels bound to remain silent on the subject, but the bill is being paid by the refugees and the overburdened countries of the European Union.

 

To contact the author: hanke@handelsblatt.com

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