Many of the Calais Jungle camp's 8,143 residents were on Monday morning given the choice between two host regions as they queued to jump aboard busses, but their resettlement has left some of France's 18 regions largely divided.
Thousands of migrants, some fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, have gathered in their thousands on the French coast near the port of Calais in hope of making their way to the UK by sneaking onto lorries, hopping onto trains and even walking through the Channel Tunnel.
While there have been increasing worries that the camp's closure would not stop refugees desperate to cross into the UK from heading to Calais, the French government pledged to resettle camp residents in 450 reception centres (CAOs). Of these, 287 CAOs were specifically opened to cope with the inflow of Jungle residents.
But debating the refugee issue has left the country divided, and calls to refuse the welcoming of refugees and migrants have been growing in the run-up to today (24 October)'s camp evacuation.
FN protest calls for refugees 'expulsion from France'
At the end of last month, the right-wing party National Front (FN) organised a march on Saturday (22 October) to protest against the planned arrival of refugees in the small village of Saint-Denis-de-Cabanne (Loire) following the camp's demolition. Home to around 300 people, the village has been asked to welcome a few dozens of refugees in a holiday club-turned CAO.
According to Liberation, Gisèle, a local resident in her 70s asked: "How will they feed themselves? Will they move around (freely) in the village? Who will supervise them?" – worries the FN has been building on to attract local residents of this east-central part of France to demonstrate – and votes. In a leaflet distributed in surrounding local markets, the right-wing party wrote: "No to migrants in the Loire, yes to their expulsion from France".
In the south, Bernard Carayon, from former president Nicolas Sarkozy's Les Republicains (LR) party mayor of Lavaur (Tarn) in the Occitanie region also publicly rejected the establishment of a CAO in his town, claiming it "do(es) not have the financial means to collectively pay" for the centre.
The region of 6 million is expecting to accommodate 1,080 refugees and migrants from Calais' camp – following a decision of the Ministry of the Interior. The locality's President, however, supported the move.
"The welcoming of these people costs nothing to municipalities and will of course not impact on local taxation. The state pays €1,000 per migrant to host towns, an financial aid upon which the regional government has decided to align and match (an extra) €1,000 per migrant," Carole Delga, Socialist President of the southern Occitanie region, told local media this weekend.
Refugees welcoming 'is a question of will, not money'
On Sunday (23 October), 2,000 people climbed up the Mont Mézenc (Haute-Loire) as part of a protest in the south-central department to denounce comments made by opposition mayor Laurent Wauquiez, who refused to welcome any refugees in his region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.
Wauquiez, the interim leader of the LR party, last month criticised the French government's plans to resettle the refugees, saying it was creating Calais-style "Jungles all over the (French) territory". The politician urged other mayors of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region to oppose the welcoming of refugees.
The education without borders network (RESF) was one of the organisations behind the protest, which included Nuit Debout 43, Cimade – one of the main agencies working with refugees – and the Ligue des Droits de l'Homme (LDH) of the Human Rights Network.
"Our message is this one: Welcome to the refugees! Whether they are of Calais or elsewhere. France can accommodate them. This is a question of will, not money. Our region must welcome 1,784 migrants of Calais – or 1 person for 4,347 residents," Christine Chevalier, from the RESF Haute-Loire, was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.
A number of small, independent projects have also been popping up throughout the country with the same will: to welcome refugees in spite of critics through the creation of so-called humanitarian transit centres.