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France’s President François Hollande is being criticized for not shielding the French from Germany’s “irresponsible” refugee policy. In fact, France does little to alleviate the crisis.

Fog hangs above tents and makeshift shelters in the "new jungle", a field where migrants and asylum seekers stay in Calais, France, October 2, 2015. Around 3,000 migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East are camped on the French side of the tunnel in Calais, trying to board vehicles heading for Britain via the tunnel and on ferries or by walking through the tunnel, even though security measures aimed at keeping them out have been stepped up. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTS2Q15

©REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Even their preferred terminologies highlight the differences between France and Germany – in France, refugees are called refugiés, people seeking protection, while the German term Flüchtlinge amplifies the concepts of flight and forced migration, the French term underlines the new arrivals’ need for security. Semantics also appear to define the common societal understanding of the current refugee crisis in France. The focus of the debate is not concentrated on concern for the suffering or the fates of those who have fled, but rather on the question of whether and how to offer them protection.

President François Hollande has insistently reminded his people that offering asylum is an ancient French custom. At his semiannual press conference held in early September in the Elysée Palace, Hollande said, “The right of asylum is part of our soul.” Indeed, France has a long tradition of accepting refugees and threatened peoples. The Socialist president mentioned the Armenians who found safe harbor in France following the genocide in their homeland; the defenders of republican Spain during the Spanish Civil War who were welcomed with open arms; the defamed intellectuals and artists forced to leave Hitler’s Germany shortly thereafter; followed by the Jews who (albeit oft briefly) found reprieve from their persecution.

Yet the remembrance of this leftist tradition has not prevented the ruling Socialists from advancing a more restrictive interpretation of asylum law. More than ever, members of the government have repeated the words of former Prime Minister Michel Rocard, who warned before France’s National Assembly on June 6, 1989, of a banalization of asylum. “In the world today, drama, poverty, and hunger are too great for Europe and France to absorb everyone whose misery would drive them to us,” he said in his speech. “We cannot absorb all of the world’s misery,” a saying attributed to Rocard, has since become a political platitude. Rocard’s 1989 speech recalled the need “to withstand the constant refugee pressure.” …

Read the complete article in the Berlin Policy Journal App – November/December 2015 issue.

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