The city of Besançon in eastern France is improving access to housing, employment and health care for migrants who arrive there. The aim is for the city, near the border with Switzerland, to be more than simply a place migrants pass through, but also a place to settle.
On International Migrants' Day, December 18, the municipality of Besançon, presented a new reception plan for refugees. Their objective is to welcome 350 refugees per year on the territory. And to make them stay.
The elected officials want "to make their arrival permanent, to ensure that they intend to settle," explains Philippe Cremer, city councillor in charge of the reception of the homeless and the accompaniment of migrants, speaking with InfoMigrants. Currently, most of them are just passing through and do not want to stay in the area.
With this in mind, the city council voted for a territorial contract for the reception and integration of refugees (CTAIR). It will be signed on January 19, 2022, in the presence of the prefect of the Doubs and Alain Régnier, interministerial delegate in charge of the reception and integration of refugees, according to France Bleu. Nine cities have already signed such contracts in 2019 and 2020. Eleven more, including Besançon, were set to formalize them during 2021 and 2022.
Improving access to housing, employment and health
Several areas will be developed within the framework of the Besançon CTAIR. In terms of employment, a partnership will be established with Pôle Emploi (the French employment agency) around the jobs that are experiencing a shortage of workers in the region, "transport, construction and public works, agriculture with market gardening... We also lack welders, sheet metal workers ... " says Cremer.
In terms of housing, "we are working with social landlords and the municipal social action center," explains Cremer. He takes the example of the Afghan refugees who have arrived since the fall of Kabul in August. "We have managed to house them all, with the mobilization of social landlords."
The city council team has also made learning French a central part of its reception plan. A partnership will be set up with the Besançon Center for Applied Languages, as well as with aid organizations. And the team will also work with the hospital to set up a specialized "psychological unit" to facilitate access to care for refugees and "to train health care workers to receive and assist this population."
The blind spot: unaccompanied minors
These are all areas of support welcomed by aid organizations working in the region, but they believe there is still a problem. "What is proposed does not meet the primary and urgent needs that we identify, namely finding accommodation for young people who are not recognized as minors," says Alice*, a member of the association Sol Mi Ré, (for "solidarity migrants refugees"), founded in 2016 in Besançon. "We are still waiting for the city council to take a position on this."
The dialogue with the city hall is regular and the fact they seem to be listening a lot more than the former municipal team provides some reassurance for this volunteer. However, for several months, even years, Sol Mi Ré has been aware the struggle of roughly 100 young people without care or accommodation in the Doubs department. On the occasion of the International Day of the Rights of the Child, November 20, Sol Mi Ré published a report on the dysfunctions of the evaluation and sheltering of young migrants in Besançon.
Since spring 2021, an apartment in the city center has been requisitioned by this aid organization to house some young people. "We know very well that it is a temporary solution. But the aim is to show the institutions their responsibility," explains Alice. A procedure of eviction is in progress. "We warned the town hall that if no solution was found, we would have to requisition a building from the municipality again." Other young people are sheltered by a network of solidarity hosts.
"All of this is complicated, because the care of these minors depends on the department," says Cremer. "I often meet with organizations, but we can only use the resources we have. It is necessary to discuss with the department, the prefecture, the State... And it is complicated to discuss with the State, because they are in a difficult political situation."
'No resources' to achieve unconditional accommodation in Besançon?
The difficulties go beyond unaccompanied minors. "Right now, it's freezing in Besançon, it's -5°C at night. But the prefecture does not accommodate anyone, the emergency services are overwhelmed...," admits Cremer.
"We regularly have families with young children, or single adults, for whom the emergency services do not cater," agrees Alice. "We appeal to the local residents to send emails, to put pressure. We expect the town hall to play a part in this as well, to put pressure on the institutions. Because from the moment when vulnerable people are forced to sleep outside, the services of the city hall have responsibilities."
However, the reception plan presented by the city council only concerns people who have obtained their official protection status; there is no section on emergency accommodation. "The ultimate aim is to provide unconditional emergency accommodation in Besançon, but we don't have the resources to do so at present," explains Cremer.
For this reason, the city of Besançon also announced in December that it would sign the charter of the national welcome association of cities and territories (ANTIVA). This will involve working in cooperation with the other signatory territories, in order to establish a reception network.
"If we each go alone to the ministry, we won't get more resources," says Cremer. "On the other hand, if we have a network of 50 cities working together and we shout in one voice, we will carry more weight."
*Name has been changed