French President Francois Hollande visiting a refugee centre in Tours. Photo: Guillaume Souvant/AFP
“There will be no camps in France,” said Hollande, two days ahead of a maiden visit to the notorious “Jungle” settlement near Calais, where between 7,000 and 10,000 desperate migrants live.
The Socialist leader spelt out promises to “completely dismantle” the Jungle and set up “reception and orientation centres around the country” to accommodate asylum-seekers.
Hollande's government has vowed to scrap the Jungle “before winter” and a flurry of preparations underway there suggest the operation may begin shortly. Migration has been a low-key issue under Hollande's four-year-old presidency.
But he has been forced to take a visible stance on the issue, under pressure from his conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy — who is hoping to make a comeback as president — and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Each are promoting platforms of security, patriotism and national interest in early campaigning for next year's elections.
“We will provide a humane, dignified welcome to people who will file for the right of asylum,” Hollande said. Those whose request has been rejected “will be escorted out of the country. Those are the rules and they are fully aware of them.”
He noted that France would accept 80,000 asylum-seekers this year, a fraction of that accepted by Germany.
Separately, the top administrative office, or prefecture, for the Pas-de-Calais region said a Sudanese migrant aged about 30 died late Saturday when he was hit by a freight train near the port of Calais.
He was the 13th migrant to die in the Calais area since the start of the year, according to an AFP poll. Most of the deaths have been people who have tried to board trucks heading to Britain via the Channel Tunnel or ferry.
Meanwhile, Sarkozy returned Saturday to remarks on national identity that sparked a fierce row earlier this week.
On Tuesday, Sarkozy said that once immigrants are granted citizenship “they should live like the French.”
“Once you become French, your ancestors are the Gauls. 'I love France, I learned the history of France, I see myself as French',” is what you must say,” he said.
The remarks sparked a storm, prompting historians to note that France has been a land of immigration for centuries and the line “our ancestors the Gauls” was an opening to history textbooks that today is widely derided.
On Saturday, Sarkozy extended his “Gauls” reference and provided what he contended was a patriotic benchmark for Muslim immigrants to France.
“Our ancestors were the Gauls, they were also the kings of France, the Enlightenment, Napoleon, the great Republicans,” he told a rally in the southwestern town of Perpignan.
“Our ancestors were (also) the colonial troops who died at the Chemin des Dames in World War I, the Muslim riflemen who died at Monte Cassino,” he said referring to a battle against German troops in Italy in 1944.
Sarkozy paid special tribute to the Harkis — Muslim auxiliaries who fought alongside French troops in Algeria's bloody 1954-1962 war of independence.
“In our national story… a special place is reserved for French Muslims who died for our freedom and flag,” he said.