As conflicts in the Middle East continue to generate a flow of migrants to Europe, ordinary European citizens are beginning to take matters into their own hands. Sputnik France has witnessed the work of two activist groups, one that is trying to stop the influx of migrants, while the other is trying to help them cross the France-Italy border.
The French right-wing movement “Generation Identitaire” (GI) has organized an improvised barricade in the Alps, in the mountain pass Echelle on the French-Italy border in order to prevent illegal immigrants from entering France. Hundreds of activists from all over Europe have come to their aid, while their branch in Italy have taken positions at border checkpoints, warning illegal immigrants seeking to pass through Echelle that they would be blocked on the French side. By 10:30 on April 21, the makeshift border had been set up.
Jeremy Piano, head of the GI department in Aix-en-Provence, explains that the group has assumed the government’s job in guarding France’sborders. According to him, GI members are patrolling the border and stopping all migrants by all legal means.
“Our presence here by itself is a restraining factor [for migrants], but if we see one — we call the gendarmes to detain him,” Jeremy Piano said.
After their 30-hour blockade ends, it becomes obvious that they only had to stop a small number of migrants. Jean-David Catten, head of the GI PR department, explaining that it was quite expected, as their colleagues in Italy had been warning migrants about the blockade. He said that the GI was not sure how locals from Brianson would react to their initiative, but noted that there were citizens of the town who had told GI about a group of activists that leads immigrant caravans into France from Italy.
Indeed, the next day, after the blockade had ended, the Sputnik France film crew witnessed how members of the Italian Antifa (anti-fascist) movement were leading a column of migrants across the border. It was clear that their means of transportation from the border to Brianson was organized in advance, as cars were already waiting for them. Despite their attempts, the local gendarmes detail was too small to prevent the migrants from getting through.
“We learned that housing, funded by the government, had been used to accommodate the migrants, such as youth centers, community centers and others. We decided that locals had had enough of it, just like in other places in France,” Jean-David Catten said.
Local citizens, however, are not unanimous in their attitudes towards the incoming migrants. But some of them are indeed dissatisfied with how the government is attempting to solve the migrant crisis.
“I think there are too many of them. We pay taxes, we get our pension cut […] I’ve waited for 30 years, but still haven’t got my social housing, but they get it. To put it simply, it’s inequality,” one elderly woman said.
However, others don’t believe that stopping migrants at the border solves the problem either.
“It’s pointless. It’s pointless to leave them in the Echelle mountain pass. It is not a solution. There is no point in leaving them in Italy — Italy also can’t give a solution to the problem. There is no point in doing that,” one young Brianson resident said.
Some people said that locals are actually in a very difficult situation, with both options being unsuitable.
“We are caught between fires. I’m against letting them in, because it can go too far. But we can’t let them starve on our doorsteps either,” a man from Val de Pres said.
Consequences of Large-Scale Immigration
Assistant Professor of Public Economics from the University of Naples Federico II Salvatore Villani commented on the possible consequences of a large-scale immigration to Europe and solutions to the migrant crisis in an interview with Sputnik. According to him, a moderate flow of migrants to a country can have positive effects — it creates cultural and ethnic diversity, which stimulates innovation, productivity and entrepreneurship. But at the same time, an excessive migrant influx can cause significant problems, such as violence and conflicts. He notes that in this case, costs may outweigh the benefits.
“Sometimes migrants come from countries with inadequate or incompatible social systems, to which they are still linked. Large-scale immigration amplifies these negative effects, especially if it involves individuals with low levels of education or skills,” he said.
Salvatore Villani believes that governments have the right to control migration flows to balance these costs and benefits. He also notes that apart from violence, excessive immigration may destabilize a country’s social welfare system.
“Large-scale immigration jeopardizes the sustainability of generous European welfare systems. If we do not change the rules of access to the national welfare systems, the most generous countries will eventually bear the largest share of the expenses of those who migrate for poverty,” Salvatore Villani said.
Commenting on dealing with the migration crisis in Europe, he recalled a German initiative to reward countries that accommodate migrants using the EU budget, which was largely criticized. He believes that a possible alternative for it is a quota trading system, with an additional mechanism for taking migrants’ preferences into account, as well as assessing the cultural diversity of recipients.