Observers

About a hundred activists joined a group of migrants as they crossed the border from Italy to France on April 22, the day after a far-right fringe group organised an anti-migrant publicity stunt in the same area. Activists who marched with the migrants said that they wanted to denounce the French police’s failure to act against the far-right.

This weekend saw the latest chapter of anti-migrant actions organised by the far-right fringe group Génération Identitaire, which, last summer, tried to stop NGO-run boats from rescuing migrants at risk of drowning in the Mediterranean.

On April 21, several members of this group (of different nationalities) took up position near Col de l’Échelle, a mountain pass located in the French Alps. Their aim was to block the passage of migrants who attempt this dangerous route to cross from Italy to France.

The group chartered two helicopters as well as surveillance drones to fly over the area and placed a massive banner reading "No Way" on a mountain slope. The group succeeded in carrying out a new xenophobic publicity stunt as the French National Assembly debates a new law on asylum and immigration.

The next day, Italians -- some of whom are members of anti-fascism or pro-migrant groups -- decided to match the publicity stunt carried out by the far-right group by organising to cross the mountain pass in solidarity with a group of migrants. About 150 activists escorted about 40 migrants from the Italian village of Clavière, in Italy, to Briançon, in France. Warned about this march, French security forces momentarily formed a barricade, blocking a French national highway. But the activists, who outnumbered the police, managed to force past them to continue on their way.

"They have had plenty of time for publicity and thus to succeed in their operation"

Jean (not his real name) participated in this counter-protest as a “simple citizen” to respond to “the actions of the fascists".

This march wasn’t planned. On Sunday morning, activists from several different collectives met up to share a meal and talk about borders. We held our meeting at an independant refuge called "Chez Jésus" (House of Jesus).

We talked about the publicity stunt carried out a day before by this fringe far-right group and decided that we wanted to respond to them symbolically.

That’s how, spontaneously, we set out with a group of migrants for Briançon. Our aim was to express our shock at the failure of the French police to stop the fascists. They were able to carry out their protest on the pass for more than a day before the police pushed them out. That gave them more than enough time to get media attention and, thus, succeed in their publicity stunt. We needed to do something in response.

We also wanted to symbolically denounce the border surveillance system and the Dublin Regulation [Editor’s note: A European law, which says that, most of the time, the EU member state responsible for examining an asylum seeker’s application is the state through which the asylum seeker first entered the EU.]

Some Italian activists found the far-right publicity stunt all the more shocking because, in a few short days, on April 25, we will be celebrating the anniversary of the Liberation [Editor’s note: The date which marks the end of the Nazi occupation of Italy.]


The French interior minister condemns… both operations

In a statement published on Facebook, the Chez Jésus refuge denounced the transformation of the French-Italian border into “a holiday destination for dozens of soldiers, who come to train for war by chasing exiles".

"This, as well as the presence of neo-fascists at the Col de l’Échelle, pushed us to chose to break -- in a large number and by the light of day -- this policy that tries to make the crossing impossible for those who are not welcome,” wrote members of the association that runs Chez Jésus, adding that nine people had been arrested.


The French Ministry of the Interior took its time in responding to the publicity stunt carried out by Génération Identitaire. It wasn’t until Sunday evening that French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb released a statement referring to the actions carried out by Génération Identitaire as mere “posturing".

In the same statement, the minister condemned the operation carried out by the activists. He claimed they went to the pass near Montgenèvre with the aim of "crossing the border illegally with about 30 migrants”. The minister highlighted "the desire [of the state] to fight for those who want to undermine border controls like those who claim to replace security forces in these missions”.

Translation of Tweet: @gerardcollomb condemns the provocations and incidents that occurred this weekend in the Hautes-Alpes [department of France] and underlines the state’s resolve to fight those who want to undermine border controls like those who claim to take the place of security forces in these missions.
 

As stated in an article published on FRANCE 24 website Infomigrants, citizens don’t have the right to carry out border controls, to check a migrant’s legal status and to authorise those migrants to enter French territory.