SHAFAQNA – President Hollande has sought to fight against xenophobia in France, claiming that migrants had “saved” the country. The president, whose Socialist party is facing a threat in the polls from the National Front, said that hundreds of thousands of people from France’s former colonies had fought in both world wars. Immigrants had also built 97 per cent of the motorways and risen to the summit of its creative arts.
His homage came as he inaugurated the highly contentious Museum on the History of Immigration. It actually opened seven years ago, but the French authorities had so far avoided an official inauguration.
Mr Hollande spoke out amid warnings that his silence on immigration was contributing to the rise of the far right. Highlighting fashion designers such as the Tunisian-born Azzedine Alaia, he said: “The most flamboyant successes of France are the successes of all French people, those born here and those born elsewhere.”
Benjamin Stora, the historian, said: “This official inauguration is a great moment. Fear has installed itself in France in the question of immigration and we need to reverse the tide.”
However, Florian Philippot, the deputy chairman of the National Front, claimed that migration was a “monumental economic, social and political problem”.
The museum, in the Porte D’Orée Palace, aims to portray France as a land that has managed to integrate its immigrants over the past two centuries, albeit with difficulty. Studies show that 23 per cent of French people have a grandparent who was an immigrant. Immigrants account for 8.4 per cent of the population.
When the museum opened in 2007 President Sarkozy refused to inaugurate it for fear of appearing soft on immigration. Éric Besson, his immigration minister, was sent to preside over an opening ceremony in 2009 but protesters stopped him from speaking and he fled under police escort.
The exhibition shows how Belgians and Italians faced hostility when they arrived in the 19th century.Immigrants from France’s former African colonies faced similar anger in the 1970s.
About 200,000 immigrants arrive in France every year, fewer than in the UK, Germany or Italy.
If a presidential election were held today, polls suggest that Marine Le Pen, the National Front leader, would win through from the first round but voters for both mainstream parties would unite against her in the run-off.
Source : http://www.thetimes.co.uk/