Two years ago, former industry boss Olivier Legrain created an endowment fund to support migrants in France. The fund enabled the purchase of a "hospitality house" on the Italian border, which is scheduled to open its doors this summer.
"From the moment people are in our country, we must welcome them with dignity, not like animals. People living under the ring road, it's scandalous." With these words, Olivier Legrain, millionaire and former industry boss turned therapist, explained his undertaking.
Two years ago, the 68-year-old retiree, who specialized in company takeovers, created the Riace France endowment fund, named after the Italian village in Calabria that has become a symbol of hospitality towards migrants. He has injected €3 million into the fund.
Since then, he has participated, with cash, in a number of recent initiatives to help exiles throughout France. In November, he helped set up a migrant camp on the Place de la République in Paris to publicize their plight. He also helped install toilets in a home for undocumented Malians in the Paris suburbs.
'The dream is to have 10 or 20 hospitality houses throughout the country'
The former CEO of Materis, the chemical branch of the Lafarge group, is looking further ahead than just the hard-hitting actions he has already financed. His main project has been the building of a hospitality house in Briançon. This summer, the new facility will take over from the emblematic Refuge Solidaire, which allows exiles to take a breather after the perilous crossing of the French-Italian border.
"The dream is to have 10 or 20 hospitality houses throughout the country," said Legrain, who sees himself as a "catalyst" of solidarity and says he is ready to withstand the "very violent attacks" that are beginning to emerge from "those who do not want migrants."
But while his commitment has generated enthusiasm among his acquaintances, concrete support is still lacking.
Since Legrains' plans were announced, revenues have been twenty times lower than expenses, he acknowledged. "We are overwhelmed by requests, we even have the Jesuits on our backs," he said. At this rate, the funds will run out in "three or four years," he predicted.