France: Tension rises as migrants brave the Alps

France: Tension rises as migrants brave the Alps
By Valérie Gauriat
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Over a nearly two year period, more than 3,500 migrants have ventured into the mountains to seek asylum in France.


Tension is running high in the French Alps.

For months, residents of the region of Briançon, bordering with Italy, have been voicing their concern.

They are alarmed at the recent deaths of at least two migrants making the dangerous journey through the mountains from Italy to France.

Their fear is that the border crossing will become like what they call the "cemetery in the Mediterranean".

One of those who lost their lives was an African woman whose body was found in a local river. Protesters say she died after being chased by the police.

Over a nearly two year period, more than 3,500 migrants, mainly from West Africa, have braved the summits to cross the border from Italy to France. 

Mountain dwellers regularly rescue those who get into difficulties, sometimes risking prosecution for doing so.

The newcomers' arrival has triggered hostility from far-right groups who, in April, erected a symbolic barrage against migrants in the Alps.

Reporter Valérie Gauriat of Euronews 'Insiders' programme met some members of the pan-European group 'Generation Identity' who had stayed in the area.

"We are vigilant citizens. We want to defend our people, defend Europeans," said group spokesperson Aymeric Courtet.

"if the state has decided to abandon its people, we are here - for Europeans, for the defence of our identity."

However, that narrative is rejected by many in the region, where a vast solidarity network has been set up to help asylum seekers. 

In the town of Briançon, exiles coming from Italy seek shelter every day.

Many have been sent back several times by police, before finally managing to cross.

Local volunteers, who provide refuge facilities, accuse the French authorities of not facing up to their responsibilities towards asylum seekers.

"Legally, they should be allowed to come," insisted Joël Pruvot, spokesperson of the 'Refuges Solidaires' group.

"Then there is a delay in which they can make their asylum request. And then the request is either accepted or not. But it is not for the police to say whether their asylum request is legitimate."

In 2017, France ranked 12th in the list of European countries welcoming asylum seekers.

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