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IMMIGRATION

French mayor: ‘I only want Christian refugees’

The mayor of a French town has caused a storm by stating he is ready to accept refugees but on the condition they are Christians, claiming that would be enough of a guarantee they were not "disguised terrorists".

French mayor: 'I only want Christian refugees'
Refugees stand next to a makeshift church in the "New Jungle" in Calais. Photo: AFP

Details will soon be given over how exactly France plans to accommodate the 24,000 refugees it has promised to take in over the next years.

But there could be trouble ahead if the statement of the mayor of Roanne, a town in the Loire Valley, are anything to go by.

Yves Nicolin, (see photo below) who is also an MP from the centre right Républicains party, went on the record on Monday, saying he was ready to accept refugees in his town.

However he added one condition: “that the refugees are Christians”.

Nicolin’s justification for taking up a clearly inflammatory stance in a country with Europe’s biggest Muslim population was that he feared that some of the Syrian or Iraqi refugees that could end up in his town could be “disguised terrorists”.

“What I hope is that we can be absolutely certain that they are not masked terrorists,” he told France Bleu radio.

“That’s the reason for asking for Christian refugees, which would provide a sufficient guarantee.”

On Tuesday Nicolin took to the airwaves again, but far from back tracking amid the storm he had stirred up, he stuck to his guns, insisting that it would not represent “any kind of religious discrimination.” 

“I simply said we must determine the real intentions of the migrants,” he told France Bleu radio. ” I have a duty, I am there to protect my citizens.”

“If France decides to host a number of families on its territory and it decides to integrate them, that is to say give them papers, then the town of Roanne could play that role and accommodate around a dozen families,” said Nicolin.

“But on the condition that they are Christian refugees because Christians are have been persecuted in Syria by Isis,” he said.

Asked about the persecution of other minorities such as the Kurds, the Yezidi or Shia Muslims Nicolin called on “all feasible precautions” to be taken.

“It will take longer to check that these people who are indeed persecuted are not economic refugees and that are leaving their country in an emergency because Isis want to clear  them out of the territory,” he added.


(Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius welcomes a group of Iraqi Christian refugees to France in 2014. Photo: AFP)

Although Nicolin’s statement was controversial enough to earn him headlines across the French press this week, a recent poll suggests his fears put him in the majority.

A recent Ifop poll revealed 56 percent of French people believed terrorists from extremist groups like Isis could enter France disguised as refugees.

Perhaps those fears are understandable given the Paris terror attacks at the start of the year and numerous thwarted terror plots in the country since then.

There may be many more members of the French public who would feel more comfortable only welcoming Christian refugees, rather than Muslim ones into their neighbourhoods.

And it's not just in France that concerns have been raised. On Monday Spain's interior minister called for tighter controls to prevent members of the armed jihadist group Isis from infiltrating the “avalanche” of refugees arriving in Europe from Syria.

“The vast majority are refugees fleeing war, terror, but we can't forget that Isis is over there and these barbarians have shown that they are capable of carrying out their threats,” Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz told daily ABC. 

However clearly not all mayors in France were taking up Nicolin’s position.

Gaël Perdriau, the mayor of the central eastern city of Saint-Etienne said he had decided to host refugees, “according to our capabilities, those who are trying to escape war and death.”

“I call on all politicians, both local and national to grasp this situation without fear, which requires us to make one simple decision: We will welcome,” said the mayor in a statement.

More details about how, where and when France will accommodate the thousands of refugees are likely to be given over the coming days and following the Interior Minister’s meeting with the country’s mayors on Saturday.

 

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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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