A Belated Welcome in France Is Drawing Few Migrants

Adam Nossiter, New York Times, September 18, 2015

Fear, belated expressions of welcome and refusals to yield have all greeted Europe’s migrant crisis in France, with the French far right even comparing the influx to the barbarian invasions in the fourth century.

But amid the apocalyptic warnings, a wounding fact has been largely passed over in silence by politicians here: The migrants are voting with their feet, and they are not choosing France.

National pride barely acknowledges it. But tens of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis are streaming toward Germany, while only a comparative handful make their way here. Migrants crowding onto the trains in Hungary shout, “Germany, Germany!” But they do not shout, “France, France.”

The country’s most visible encampment of migrants is perched at Calais, looking longingly across the Channel toward Britain–a permanent reproach to the country in which these migrants are now pitching tents.

“France doesn’t create the conditions to make them want to stay,” said Jean-François Corty, the head of Médecins du Monde, a nongovernmental organization that has worked extensively with the migrants at Calais.

But France’s relative lack of appeal has not blunted the wariness, or even fearmongering, about immigration that has helped fuel support for the far right here.

“Unless the French people take action, the invasion of the migrants will be every bit the same as that of the fourth century, and could have the same consequences,” Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front party, warned this week.

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There has been no French equivalent of the maternal image of Chancellor Angela Merkel offering succor. Pro-migrant demonstrations in France have been small compared with the hundreds of Germans who have flocked to train stations to help.

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A recent pledge by the French president, François Hollande, to take in an additional 24,000 migrants over two years–after refusing for months to countenance the idea of quotas–was criticized by the news media in France and elsewhere in Europe as a drop in the bucket compared with Germany’s projection that it would take in close to a million migrants this year.

The French news media, rueful or defensive, have picked up on the decisive migrant plebiscite for Germany over France as further evidence of France’s relative decline.

“These migrants who don’t dream of France,” read the front-page headline of Le Monde on Sunday. The cover of Le Point, a right-leaning weekly newsmagazine, lamented: “The Incredible Madame Merkel. If only she were French.”

In Le Figaro, a columnist wrote: “Values, that was all we had left. And now we’ve screwed that up as well,” before transitioning to the cynic’s interpretation of German generosity: The country’s industrialists need help.

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