France’s Interior Ministry has decided to deploy reinforcements to an Alpine crossing where a group of far-right vigilantes has attempted to block ultra-left activists from escorting immigrants from Italy across the border.
On Saturday morning, a crowd of roughly 150 anti-immigration activists occupied the Col de l’Echelle mountain pass in the Hautes-Alpes region of France, in what they said was an attempt to block the “strategic point of passage of illegal immigrants” from Italy.
After setting up a plastic orange building-site fence, representing a “symbolic frontier” just six kilometers from the official Italian border, the right-wing Generation Identitaire (GI) activists put out a giant banner on the mountainside to “notify” the migrants that the border was closed to them.
“No Way,” the banner said in English with giant red letters. “You will not make Europe your home! Back to your homeland!” the sign read.
The group, consisting of mainly French, but also Italian, Hungarian, Danish, Austrian, British and German activists, then began distributing leaflets on the Italian side of the border to make clear that the crossing was closed and that illegals had to return home. The far-right movement also rented two helicopters that flew over the area throughout Saturday afternoon.
While GI members camped out some 1,700 meters above sea level at the mountain pass, the pro-migrant “Tous Migrants” association organized a rally at Refuge Solidaire de Briançon, a care center for refugees. The Mayor of Briançon, Gérard Fromm, led the rally.
On Sunday morning, tensions began to escalate on the mountaintop, after far-left Italian activists were joined by Briançon’s pro-migrant camp to escort some 30 people into France. Several hundred gendarmes and policemen were reportedly sent to ensure order as anti-fascists tried to pierce the GI blockade. A few minor clashes were reported before migrants, including 11 children, reached Briançon.
The remaining GI members wrapped up their campaign by Sunday afternoon, Romain Espino, a spokesman for the group, told AFP, noting that the organization will “continue to patrol” the region throughout the coming week, focusing on “various roads known to be human smuggling [routes].”
“The mission is a success, we managed to attract media and political attention to the Col de l’Echelle,” Espino claimed.
In reaction to the disturbance, France’s Interior Minister Gérard Collomb announced additional “reinforcements of police and gendarmerie” to the Hautes-Alpes to “ensure absolute respect of the border control.” The GI protesters have reportedly now left the area, escorted by police.
“Police and special forces reinforcements will be deployed” in the Hautes-Alpes following “provocations, posturing and incidents” involving the “ultra-right and ultra-left groups,” Collomb said, in a statement on Sunday evening.
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