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Mixed Reaction As Calais Refugees Are Rehoused Across France


France is about to dismantle The Jungle. That's a huge migrant camp outside the northern city of Calais. The camp has been home to thousands of people who are trying to make their way across the English Channel to the United Kingdom. The French government says most of the camp's residents will be moved to temporary reception centers across the country. The prospect of welcoming those asylum seekers has divided many French communities. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Just a 40-minute drive west from Paris, you'll find the lovely little town of Louveciennes, where the impressionists used to paint. The town center has colorful shops and a gray medieval church. Large houses and chestnut trees line its streets. Louveciennes is the perfect place to raise a family, says working mother Laura Chretien.

LAURA CHRETIEN: It's a very quiet place here. And that's - we are all looking for.

BEARDSLEY: Though nothing has been confirmed, Chretien and other residents fear the government is going to place thousands of refugees in an abandoned industrial site on the outskirts of town. So this month, they formed an association called Save Louveciennes. Other surrounding towns created similar associations.

CHRETIEN: We talk a lot together. We don't want to be the new Calais, you understand? Because Calais, we've seen that there was no dignity for the people and there were lots of problem of security.

BEARDSLEY: Chretien says they are not against the refugees but feel the migrants should be relocated in small groups and under the proper conditions, which is what the French government says it intends to do.


BEARDSLEY: Earlier this month, residents of these well-heeled towns west of the French capital held a demonstration against the possible migrant camp. Elected officials wore their sashes. And local people carried banners as they marched on a sunny afternoon. The speeches concentrated on why this would not be a good place to recreate the Calais camp. But then...

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in French).

BEARDSLEY: ...A few people began chanting - not here, nor anywhere else. That soon morphed into shouts of - this is our home, which is one of the slogans of the far-right National Front Party. France is still reeling from three major terrorist attacks in the last two years and chronically-high unemployment. In such a climate, the prospect of scores of new refugee centers has split communities across France.

But this week, another association was created in Louveciennes. Fraternity with Refugees held its first meeting in a church hall. Residents like Florence Heskia offered blankets, spare rooms and French lessons to the new arrivals.

FLORENCE HESKIA: I feel very connected to these people. And that's my human duty - to help people who suffer.

BEARDSLEY: Denis Allard is CEO of a corporate communications company. He says he doesn't have a lot of spare time, but he founded the Refugee Solidarity Association after anonymous, anti-migrant posters started showing up in town.

DENIS ALLARD: (Through interpreter) I couldn't remain silent in front of such ungenerous intolerance. It's an insult to those who resisted the Nazis here in World War II. The arrival of these poor people is such a small thing. And it's my duty as a man to stand up and welcome them.

BEARDSLEY: Allard says he was surprised that so many turned out to support his group. Most people have goodness in their heart, he says. And if someone leads the way, then the others will follow. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Louveciennes, France. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.