'They are coming': French mayor launches poster campaign after his town accepts 40 refugees

Official in Béziers calls for a referendum asking residents whether they want to welcome refugees

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Posters warning that “migrants are coming” and stating they are being “imposed” on French people have been put up in a town that is set to receive 40 displaced people from the ‘jungle’ camp in Calais.

The poster, which features a darkened image of middle-eastern and African men beneath a cathedral alongside the words: “The state is imposing them on us: That’s it, they are coming”, was put up in 100 parts of the Southern French town of Béziers yesterday (11 October).

The mayor of Béziers, Robert Ménard, who was elected with the support of far-right political party Front National, launched the poster campaign in response to government plans for 40 people from the ‘jungle’ camp in Calais to be received by the town, and the subsequent expansion of Béziers' reception centres.

Mr Ménard, who shared the poster on his Facebook page alongside the words: "We are informing the population", last week called for a referendum to ask residents whether they approved of the plans to receive refugees in the town.

He said the decisions were made “without alerting the mayor or the city council,” describing the decision as a “real stab in the back” to the people of Béziers.

The mayor's campaign has since been reported to the justice board and to anti-racist movement SOS Racisme, who have condemned his actions, describing the posters as “hatred against the other and contempt for the rule of law”.

The organisation released a statement saying: “Robert Ménard, a little man with small ideas and a small career, has succeeded in one day to show two facets of the extreme-right: hatred against the other and contempt for the rule of law. It is up to public authorities and citizens to show that we won’t allow the reputation of our country to be tarnished and weakened by people who are the antithesis of the Republic.”

In response to the criticism, Mr Ménard said he was "putting his town first".

Speaking to The Independent, the mayor said: "I don't care what SOS Racisme says. Béziers is the fourth poorest town in France. I have compassion for Syrian refugees, but I prioritise the people of my town. I put my town first.

"I've put up the posters to inform the residents. To explain to them what we are in the process of doing. Without informing them and asking for their opinion. The local government representatives didn't even tell me about this decision. Are we in a democracy or not? This is why I've organised a referendum. 

"Forty migrants are definitely coming before the end of the month. There has been talk of another centre for 30 or 50 more people. But the number isn't important. The problem is we're in a town where immigration is already massive."

Mr Ménard went on to pledge that if the refugees did come to the town, he would not grant them authorisation to settle there. He added: "If these migrants do come and try to settle here, they will need authorisation from the mayor, and I won't give it to them."

Some residents of Béziers have responded to the posters with anger. A petition has been set up containing a letter to the local government asking that the posters are removed, and has so far garnered 29,498 signatures. It reads: “Since the morning of 11 October, the city is littered with hateful and intolerable posters. The Front National-affiliated mayor has again splashed the citizens with hatred.

“He’s put up violent posters. This today has reached the height of racial hate. They are everywhere, even in schools. We demand that these posters are removed and that the municipality is punished.”

Others have reacted with shock and disappointment to the poster on Twitter. One user wrote: "My country disgusts me", while another said he was "speechless" and "absolutely ashamed".

Last week, the Béziers mayor’s office issued a statement claiming the town was being "imposed with things [it] doesn't want".

“The mayor of Béziers learned yesterday that another Asylum seeker welcome centre will open very soon. More than one. Right in the centre of town," the statement read.

"While the municipality has worked for two years to renovate the town centre, this announcement sounds like a stab in the back for the town’s people. The prefect (leader of the local government) did not alert the mayor.

"Once again, the residents of Béziers are summoned to pay the price of a policy that opens wide he door to our country to the immigration of a huge wave of immigration. Once again, we see ourselves imposed with things we didn’t want. But once again, we will resist it.”

Bénédicte Jeannerod, director of Human Rights Watch in France, described the campaign as "heinous" and "shameful", tweeting: "Heinous, shameful anti-refugee campaign by the far-right Mayor of the city of Béziers, South France. Despicable."

The inter-ministerial delegation to the fight against racism and anti-Semitism in France, known as Dilcra, said the posters “constitute a flagrant provocation to hatred”.

The organisation wrote in statement: “In the period we know, the repeated targeting of individuals or groups because of their origin or creed can not be accepted. It is all the more serious when committed by an elected of the Republic.”