From Director’s Desk
Written By: Jayanta Chakrabarty
Illustration : Avijit Ghosh
The island of Lampedusa has an area of 20.2 square kilometers and a population of about 6,000 people. Its main industries are fishing and tourism. By May 2011, as the Arab Spring was in full swing, more than 35,000 immigrants arrived in the island from Tunisia and Libya. By the end of August, 48,000 arrived. Most of them were young males in their 20s and 30s, and the large majority of them were Muslims. Italy had repeatedly requested aid from the EU to manage this large number of refugees but their demand had been turned down. The rift between the EU countries increased. Not finding enough possibility to make a living and build a future in Italy, the migrants spread across the much richer countries like France and Germany, and a certain number of them intended to go to Britain.
On January 7, 2015, heavily armed Kouchai brothers entered the office of the magazine “Charlie Hebdo” in Paris and killed twelve people, who were supposedly related to the publication of the cartoons of Prophet Mohammed in the past.
Two days later, another Islamic State Group affiliate, Amedy Coulibaly, a close friend of Kouchai brothers, attacked the people in the kosher food supermarket. He murdered four Jewish hostages and held many others during a siege.
Lassana Bathily, a Malian illegal immigrant, an employee of the supermarket, had helped a number of persons to hide inside the cold storage. He was awarded French nationality for his heroic role 11 days after the siege.
The incident helped the extreme right party National Front, to strengthen its base in the French society. The party hardened its anti-Europe, anti-immigration, anti-Muslim stance. But it was hardly mentioned that Lassana Bathily was a Muslim.
Then throughout 2015, the exodus of migration reached Europe from all sides, notably the Syrians, mixed with all different nationalities from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. And again the large majority of them were Muslims.
More than a million migrants arrived in Europe and more than 3,770 migrants reportedly died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea the same year.
Germany received the highest number of new asylum applications in 2015, around half a million. Hungary was in the second place in respect of asylum applications, as lots of migrants made the journey overland through Greece and the Western Balkans. It had 177,130 applications by the end of December, a ratio very high according to its own population. As a result, Hungary took a very tough stance by closing its border and detaining the refugees for illegal entrance in its territory. These policies heated the European Parliament on human right issues.
In France, the number reached close to 90000. On November 13, 2015, France faced a series of terrorist attacks linked to ISIS, perpetrated by home-grown and foreign Islamist terrorists. Those incidents again questioned the integration of youngest generation of migrant families originated from old French colonies. Similar attacks took place in Belgium, Germany, England and again in France on 14 July 2016.
On the other side of the sea, the conflict in the Middle East spread much further to Yemen and the situation in Syria had worsened as the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia led Sunni front become fierce.
The arrival of Donald Trump at White House in January 2017 added a new perspective to the Syrian war. Russia fortified its support to Asad and helped him regain the territory from the rebels’ hands. The US talked about its priority to see the end of ISIS.
The presidential election took place in France in May 2017 in a unique situation where two main political parties failed to reach the second tour. Two candidates representing two extreme groups rose from the crisis of capitalist market system. Emmanuel Macron for further opening of the market to private sector players minimizing the role of the State in people’s life and a broader Europe, and Marine Le Pen for Nationalism, a strong State with public services limited to its citizens, and anti-immigration, fought for the glory. Though Marine Le Pen lost in a large margin, but her party’s increasing social acceptance, twofold electorates than it had in 2002, indicated the change of French people’s mind.
Taking the advantage of public disenchantment in ruling political class, Emmanuel Macron’s new party, Republic Moving on, a mix of right-wing and left-wing big heads, got an absolute majority in the Parliamentary election in June.
The new government had absolute power on legislation and the new President worked on decrees (ordinance) to speed up economic and social reforms, and also change in political asylum application process was a part of it.
After passing years in Italy, Mamoudou Gassama couldn’t get any prospect of making his future there as the population became more and more hostile towards the immigrants. So he came to France where his elder brother arrived many years ago and achieved a good life.
On February 19, 2018, the Council of Ministers of the French Government announced its draft bill on political asylum application proposing tougher measures, specially detaining the refugees for illegal entrance in its territory for 90 days (which can even go up to 115 days in case of deportation, and 1 year of imprisonment with 3750 Euros fine for trespassing). The bill was accepted by the lower house of the Parliament on 22 April after the debate and was sent to the Senate.
On 26 May, the ordinary illegal immigrant Mamoudou Gassama scaled a high-storied building to save a four-year child hanging on a balcony, as does the Spiderman. And the heroic act transforms his life all of a sudden. He is now French. This Samaritan is a good Muslim. He would no more have the fear of deportation.