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IMMIGRATION

French workers targeted in Swiss hate campaign

Residents of France who work across the border in Geneva have become the targets of a virulent anti-migrant campaign calling for their houses and cars to be burned.

French workers targeted in Swiss hate campaign
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Some 90,000 foreigners, most of them French, cross the border to work in Geneva, sparking tension in an area with the highest unemployment in Switzerland – 5.3 percent in March, against a national rate of 3.2 percent.

A pamphlet distributed this month outside the Geneva University Hospitals calls for the elimination of “this border scum”.

“They are everywhere… in a number that far exceeds the tolerable quota, with their arrogance, their pollution, their contempt, their insolence and their privilege,” the pamphlet said.

“Total war is declared,” said the tract, which was reprinted by the local Socialist Party in a newsletter expressing alarm over the document’s violent nationalism. “Burn their houses, their cars. Border workers, get out.”

The hospital said it planned to file charges against the pamphlet’s anonymous author.

The labour union that represents employees there defended the practice of hiring cross-border workers, saying Geneva’s own education system doesn’t train enough nurses.

“We defend all workers, wherever they’re from,” union secretary Julien Dubouchet Corthay told AFP.

The hospital’s 10,172 employees are 48 percent Swiss and 34 percent French, its 2011 records show.

The nursing staff is 56-percent French, but 66 percent of doctors are Swiss against just 11 percent French, and 72 percent of senior executives are Swiss.

Tensions over the large number of foreign workers at the hospital erupted into the open in February, when the director general said the hospital would begin favouring Geneva residents in promotions.

“Out of 165 medical unit managers, 110 are cross-border workers. Some employees who live in Geneva have complained,” hospital chief Bernard Gruson told a local newspaper.

“So I’ve decided to favour a return to equilibrium. That will be my priority for every promotion. It’s absolutely not about ostracism, but about my role as boss to arbitrate when people are dissatisfied.”

The remarks unleashed a heated debate in Geneva, and fed the rhetoric of local political party the Geneva Citizens Movement, which regularly criticises cross-border workers.

The movement also claims French criminals come to Geneva to steal from residents.

The local Socialist Party has meanwhile called for the creation of a cross-border parliament that would bring together officials from the border districts of Geneva and Vaud with their counterparts in France.

The body would deal with the entire region’s housing and employment issues, the Socialist say.

“The Geneva Socialist Party is aware of the enormous distortions in both the employment and housing markets,” it said.

“That’s why the party is convinced that the France-Vaud-Geneva people must work together to find solutions to their problems, especially by creating appropriate democratic institutions and true tools to fight against underpaying wages.”

POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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