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French villagers demand public vote to kick out 50 migrants

DAILY SABAH WITH WIRES
Istanbul
Published
Migrants gather and wait before being evacuated from a makeshift migrant camp set up between the metro stations of Jaures and Stalingrad, in Paris, on Sept. 16. Migrants gather and wait before being evacuated from a makeshift migrant camp set up between the metro stations of Jaures and Stalingrad, in Paris, on Sept. 16.

A French village with only 2,500 residents protested against the rehousing of 50 migrants nearby as they call for a referendum to kick them out, showing the growing intolerance in France

World leaders are trying to find a solution to the global refugee crisis in a U.S.-led refugee summit at the United Nations. But solutions at the international level can't possibly solve societal problems like those currently being exhibited in France. Refugees are still seen as a burden in societies like France, particularly in the small village of Allex, in the south-western province of Rhone-Alpes. The villagers in Allex are demanding a referendum in order to kick out migrants re-homed in their neighborhood, The Daily Express reported on Tuesday.

"The French people should have the right to say yes or no to such decisions," said a group of villagers in a Facebook post. "We have rights as French citizens and we want them to be respected," they added while accusing the French government of disrespecting local communities' attitudes toward migrants and refugees.

The village is ready to hold their own referendum on housing migrants on Oct. 2, while the villagers have urged all French towns across the country to hold a referendum.

The French government announced the redistribution of recently arrived refugees across the country on Sept. 5 and some 50 migrants arrived on Sept. 15 at Château de Pergaud, in the village of Allex, which has a population of around 2,500. Their arrival sparked protests in the small village and they accused the government of being "heavy-handed." Many villagers claimed their village could become "lawless" like Calais.

Francois Hollande's government promised to dismantle the Calais camp by the end of the year and resettle migrants in small centers across France to examine their situations on a case-by-case basis. That plan has prompted vehement protests from many local conservative and far-right politicians, saying they fear the consequences of the presence of migrants in their towns.

The number of migrants living in the "jungle" reached as many as 10,000 this month according to aid groups operating in the camp, compared to 7,000 according to a count by French authorities in August. There were a few hundred there in 2012 when Hollande was elected.

After weeks of preparation, workers have begun building a 4-meter (13-foot) high wall in northern France to try to keep migrants from sneaking onto ferries crossing the English Channel. Critics of the wall note that France plans to dismantle the makeshift camp by the time the wall is expected to be completed at the end of the year.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited the northern city of Calais on Wednesday, putting migration at the heart of his agenda on the same day official campaigning was set to start for the country's center-right presidential primaries.

He was quoted by newspaper Le Monde saying that he had traveled to the city to meet with Calaisiens, "not to visit the Jungle, because I want the Jungle to leave." The former president has criticized the government's plans to relocate migrants across France as a stopgap measure.

Earlier this week, Sarkozy sparked debate with his comments that all migrants had to assimilate to French culture, saying that their ancestors were the Gauls - the people inhabiting much of modern-day France during the Roman age.

The demand for referendum on migrants came amid a high-level summit for refugees and migrants hosted by the United Nations General Assembly "with the aim of bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach." The U..S President Barack Obama on Tuesday urged countries to "welcome the stranger in our midst" at a summit that drew pledges from 50 countries to take in 360,000 refugees. Obama praised Germany and Canada among other countries for opening up their doors to those fleeing the war in Syria and other conflicts. "We are facing a crisis of epic proportion," Obama said. "We cannot avert our eyes or turn our backs. To slam the door in the face of these families would betray our deepest values."

While the new pledges would allow more asylum-seekers to rebuild their lives, it represented a fraction of the 1.1 million refugees who are in need of resettlement in 2016, according to the UN refugee agency. Countries also boosted financial contributions to UN appeals and international humanitarian organizations by about $4.5 billion over 2015 levels. The pledges included funds to ensure access to schools for one million refugee children and enabling one million refugees to work legally.

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