France gives red carpet welcome to refugees relocated from Malta

News Stories, 10 July 2009

© UNHCR/W.Spindler
Some of the 92 refugees and people in need of international protection after arriving in Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport.

PARIS, France, July 10 (UNHCR) A group of 92 people in need of international protection received the red carpet treatment at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris on Thursday, as they completed the last leg of a long and hazardous journey via Malta from their homes in Africa and Asia.

French Immigration Minister Eric Besson greeted the newcomers after they flew into a cloudy Paris on Thursday afternoon from sunny Malta. The group, including 20 children, was made up of people from various nationalities. More than half (57) were Somalis. There were also 18 Eritreans, nine Sudanese, three Ethiopians, three Sri Lankans and two people from Côte d'Ivoire.

"I wish you all the best in France. I wish you peace and happiness in your new life," Besson told the new arrivals, whom France had agreed to accept from Malta as a gesture of European responsibility sharing and solidarity. "Your future starts here," he added.

Every year hundreds of desperate migrants and asylum-seekers arrive in Malta, a tiny island nation of 400,000 inhabitants, after making the perilous boat trip across the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa. They have fled poverty, persecution or war.

To help Malta, the French government agreed to receive 96 people whom the Maltese authorities had given either refugee status or subsidiary protection. Of these, 92 arrived in Paris on Thursday, while the rest, an Iraqi family of four, will come at a later date.

"France is proud to be the European country that receives the most asylum-seekers," Besson told journalists covering the arrival. "This not a case of immigration but of asylum, which is a completely different thing. To those chased out of their country by oppression, France will do everything necessary to integrate them."

The minister also told the new arrivals about some of France's core values, including liberty, equality and fraternity as well as religious tolerance and secularism. He said they were expected to do their best to become self-sufficient and integrate, particularly by learning French.

"It's good to learn French to be able to communicate with people and find a job," said Abdirisaaq, a 21-year-old man who fled Mogadishu in Somalia and made his way through Kenya, Sudan and Libya, before making the sea voyage to Malta. "Today, I feel as happy as the day that I was saved from the sea and touched land after fours days at sea," he said.

After receiving refreshments and talking to officials and journalists, the group was taken by bus to collective centres in the towns of Nanterre, Poitiers, Créteil and Oissel, where they will stay until they find employment and accommodation.

Halimu, a Somali woman wearing white flowing robes and with henna patterns on her hands, said in fluent English before heading to an accommodation centre in Oissel: "I'm very happy because I will start my life again, improve my education and eventually reunite with my husband and children."

By William Spindler in Paris, France




UNHCR country pages

Life in Calais' Jungle

An estimated 3,000 refugees and migrants live in Calais on the northern coast of France. Most fled conflict, violence or persecution in Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Syria and need international protection.

The situation in Calais has highlighted the need for greater responsibility and coordination between European countries and a robust implementation of the Common European Asylum System.

UNHCR has called upon EU member states to address the current gaps in asylum and reception. A collective and far-reaching European response is required, based on the principles of humanity, access to protection, solidarity and responsibility-sharing, both within the EU but also with countries outside the EU.

*Names changed for protection reasons.

Life in Calais' Jungle

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

France is one of the main destinations for asylum-seekers in Europe, with some 55,000 new asylum applications in 2012. As a result of the growing number of applicants, many French cities are facing an acute shortage of accommodation for asylum-seekers.

The government is trying to address the problem and, in February 2013, announced the creation of 4,000 additional places in state-run reception centres for asylum-seekers. But many asylum-seekers are still forced to sleep rough or to occupy empty buildings. One such building, dubbed the "Refugee Hotel" by its transient population, lies on the outskirts of the eastern city of Dijon. It illustrates the critical accommodation situation.

The former meat-packing plant is home to about 100 asylum-seekers, mostly from Chad, Mali and Somalia, but also from Georgia, Kosovo and other Eastern European countries. Most are single men, but there are also two families.

In this dank, rat-infested empty building, the pipes leak and the electricity supply is sporadic. There is only one lavatory, two taps with running water, no bathing facilities and no kitchen. The asylum-seekers sleep in the former cold-storage rooms. The authorities have tried to close the squat several times. These images, taken by British photographer Jason Tanner, show the desperate state of the building and depict the people who call it home.

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

Out in the Cold in CalaisPlay video

Out in the Cold in Calais

Despite the sub-zero temperatures, migrants and asylum-seekers continue to flock to the northern French port of Calais in a bid to reach the United Kingdom across the English Channel. Some are from conflict zones and UNHCR wants to make sure they have access to asylum procedures.