French mayor tries to evict Syrian refugees

The controversial far right mayor of a French town has once again caused a storm after a video emerged of him trying to evict Syrian refugees from their lodging, telling them “they are not welcome”. Watch the clip here.

French mayor tries to evict Syrian refugees
Mayor of Beziers Robert Ménard arrives for the "hunt" where he tells Syrian refugees to leave. Photo: YouTube/Mairie de Beziers

Robert Ménard, the mayor of Beziers in southern France, has become a household name in France since being elected in May last year, thanks to his inflammatory acts.

The latest incident to provoke a storm and strong criticism from both the public and politicians saw him visiting Syrian refugees living in his town telling them “you are not welcome in this town”.

One French newspaper described it as “the hunt”.

Ménard is seen surrounded by police and other elected officials entering the homes refugees are allegedly illegally occupying, where, with the help of an English language interpreter, he tells them to leave.

The scene was captured on video and uploaded to YouTube by the official account of Beziers Town Hall. It has since clocked up more than 160,000 hits.

The far-right mayor, who won support of Marine Le Pen’s National Front party, is angry that the refugees appear to have broken into the lodgings and are not paying for electricity or water.

“You are only welcome if you respect the laws of this country,” Ménard shouts, telling them they can go and live in other towns in France.

He repeatedly shouts at one refugee that “you don't enter by breaking the door” while he tells another “you respect nothing”.

Only those people who respect my town will be welcomed, Ménard says.

His attempt to expel the refugees from the housing block was halted when members of an association turned up to remind him that evictions can only be ordered by a court.

Ménard’s stunt comes just days after he was accused of stirring up fear when his Town Hall magazine’s front cover featured a doctored AFP photo of refugees in Macedonia with the title “They are coming”.

The town's name “Beziers” had been added to the train's window, see picture below, together “3,865 kilometres”. On another of the train's windows, the words “Free schools, accommodation, and benefits for all” were added.

AFP announed on Tuesday that it had launched a law suit against Menard and the Town Hall in Beziers for wrongly using the photograph taken in Macedonia to falsely rouse fears of a migrant invasion.

AFP said it, along with photographer Robert Atanasovski, had sued the city of Beziers and Menard seeking 30,000 euros ($ 34,000) from each in damages for misusing the photograph.

France has declared it will accept 24,000 refugees over the coming two years, but they will only be relocated to those towns willing to open their doors.

Beziers is unlikely therefor to see any influx of refugees, and its likely the refugees themselves would prefer to avoid the town given the stance of the mayor.


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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.