By OLIVIA J. ZALESIN — Hundreds took to the streets of Pierrefeu in southeast France Saturday to protest the French government’s plan to house refugees in an abandoned psychiatric hospital while they apply for asylum.
Pierrefeu, a town of 6,000, may receive up to 60 migrants when the French government shuts down a refugee camp in the northern city of Calais in the coming months.
The Calais camp houses some 7,000 refugees from across the Middle East and Africa.
Anti-migrant protesters worry that their town is too small to accept more residents.
“Even if we can understand the dismantling of Calais … our small towns are not the solution for this dismantling. We are too small to host so many people,” Mayor Patrick Martinelli told U.S. News and World Report Saturday.
The Pierrefeu protests came on the heels of another protest in Calais last week, when French citizens rallied in support of migrants and protested against the French plan to shut down the Calais refugee camp.
Protesters defied bans by French authorities and clashed violently with Calais police. The altercation left five police officers and a journalist injured.
The Calais and Pierrefeu protests reflect ongoing dissonance in the French position on migrants.
Politically conservative residents of France, and specifically supporters of the far-right National Front, fear that refugees could be terrorists who threaten national security.
National Front supporters protested alongside Pierrefeu residents Saturday wearing French flags on their shoulders and shouting, “France is for French people.”
National Front supporters also attended a protest in Forges-les-Bains south of Paris Saturday.
Forty Afghan migrants were recently relocated to Forges-les-Bains from Calais in preparation for the camp’s closure.
The National Front plans more anti-migrant protests in the coming weeks, according to the France 24 television network.
Left-leaning French citizens have also been vocal on the topic of the Calais refugee camp closure, calling for increased aid to migrants.
Philippe Poutoux, a politician from the small, far-left New Anti-Capitalist Party, went to Calais last week to call for emergency care for refugees. Poutoux asked for “‘simple and natural solidarity toward these people who suffer and who are victims of slaughters, of wars,’” according to the Associated Press.
The Calais refugee camp has become notorious, known for its poor, overcrowded conditions.
Of the 7,000 migrants live in the Calais area, about 900 are unaccompanied minors, according to the Ministry of the Interior.
French President François Hollande announced in November 2015 that France would accept 30,000 Syrian refugees.
France received 71,000 applications for asylum in 2015 – a high number for France, but only a fraction of the 440,000 applications received by Germany.
Most applicants were from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
(Written by Olivia J. Zalesin, edited by Terril Y. Jones; Oct. 11, 2016)