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Migrants Arrive in Wary French Villages

(AFP) – As the bulldozers clear the remaining shacks at the “Jungle” camp, the thousands of migrants moved out to shelters around France are facing an uncertain welcome from their new hosts.

The government is looking to distribute the 6,000 residents of the squalid, lawless shantytown in Calais in special centres around the country.

While some ordinary French people are happy to help France do its part in Europe’s biggest migrant crisis since World War 2, there has also been resistance.

Much of the opposition has been in small towns which say they were not properly consulted by a government rushing before winter to find accommodation for the migrants from the Jungle — most of them Sudanese, Afghans and Eritreans.

Late last week the mayor of the rural village of Saint Bauzille in southern France threatened to resign en masse with his council in protest at plans to send them 87 migrants.

After hurried negotiations with the interior ministry and regional officials, the number was halved and on Thursday 43 migrants, mostly Sudanese, arrived by bus from Calais to stay at a reception centre.

Immigration has become a hot topic in France ahead of next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections, stoked by a string of jihadist attacks and inflammatory rhetoric from right-wing politicians.

– Reservations, arson –

In a handful of towns, including the former spa town of Forges-les-Bains, near Paris, this unease has spilled over into attacks on migrant shelters.

The arson attack on the Forges-les-Bains shelter came before any migrants moved in, but the traces are still visible.

The large residence in the heart of the affluent town is home to 77 Afghan men who arrived in two groups, the first a month ago, the second on Tuesday.

While none of them came from the Jungle, their experiences may be indicative of what those bussed out of Calais can expect.

“We’ve told them about reservations expressed” by many residents before the centre opened “and asked them to be careful in their behaviour”, said Bruno Morel, head of Emmaus Solidarite, the group running the Forges-les-Bains centre.

But they decided not to tell the migrants about the fire. “We must not panic them,” Morel said.

Five days after the first batch moved in a group of around 250 protesters marched through town to denounce the “imposition” of the shelter by the government.

The shelter’s residents already have a lot on their plate. After a French lesson, Fazalkhaliq Sahak, 18, gets out his timetable — a language lesson or sport every day, on top of chasing up his asylum application, a long and complex process.

Relief dominates his hesitant words. “Sleeping here, it’s good. The rooms, they are nice,” he said.

Before landing in Forges, he went through exile, sleeping rough on the Paris streets, then accommodation in a gymnasium in the French capital’s suburbs, where he said the lack of privacy made it impossible to sleep.

The centre’s management says there have been no incidents with locals since it opened, but the town has not exactly warmed to them either.

Around 15 Afghans went to the annual chestnut festival earlier this month.

But their “hellos” to locals are sometimes met with silence.

A survey of the town’s 3,700 inhabitants by the council found that 59 percent were against having the migrants, and outside the pharmacy resignation mixes with mistrust.

Some say they should make the best of it, others say they check their doors are locked now and have stopped taking walks in the woods.

– Chilly welcome –

Local resident Armelle Rouffignac, 42, is more enthusiastic. She has taken her adolescent sons to play table tennis with the Afghans and hopes to bring some of them into her judo club.

She says many are “against the way it has been done, not against the migrants”, criticising the lack of consultation from the central government.

“Forges is not anti-migrant (but against) a badly designed and disproportionate scheme,” said Sebastien Roger, a member of a group opposed to the centre.

Many residents have also voiced concern at the presence of a shelter for a group of single men 100 metres (yards) from a school.

For one group of Sudanese asylum seekers bussed out of the Jungle on Monday to the peaceful eastern village of Chardonnay, there was a chilly welcome.

Locals watched from a distance as the two dozen men got off the bus in the village, which has a population of just 200 but will eventually host 50 asylum seekers.

“This massive arrival of migrants, it’s inappropriate,” fumed resident Joelle Chevaux.

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