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Blocking climate migration becomes a winning platform for far-right political parties


All over the world, climate change is fueling migration, and blocking that migration has become a winning platform for far-right political parties. For the last couple weeks, we've been following these trends through one route that many people take, from Senegal to Morocco to Spain.

Well, now to get a broader view of how Europe is approaching these challenges, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley joins us from Paris. Hey, Eleanor.


SHAPIRO: I want to start with a reporting trip you just made to Calais in the north of France, just on the other side of the English Channel from Britain. And it sounds like there are some real parallels between what you saw there and what we saw when we visited the land border between Morocco and Spain. Tell us about it.

BEARDSLEY: Yeah. You know, Ari, I heard your reporting, and you spoke in one segment about the migrants being chased out of the hill around Nador door in Morocco, where they wait to try to get into Melilla, which is a Spanish European enclave. You see the same thing in Calais and Dunkirk, where migrants camp and wait for their chance to cross the English Channel to get into the U.K., where they believe their chances of finding a job and getting asylum are better.

You know, several years ago, there was a huge camp in the dunes there in Calais. They called it the Jungle. Officials dismantled it, but the problem did not go away. Migrants continue to come, and they're just in more dispersed encampments everywhere. The biggest is now around Dunkirk, not far from a beach where migrants try to cross the English Channel in rickety boats or rafts operated by smugglers.

I spoke with 18-year-old Salah, who didn't want to give his last name. He was sitting with two friends who were 16 around a tiny fire amidst puddles and trash trying to keep warm. They were all from Sudan. Here they are.

Why did you leave Sudan?

SALAH: Sudan's not a safe country. There is lots of war. So that's why.

BEARDSLEY: So you feel better here than in Sudan?

SALAH: Yeah, a hundred percent, I feel better.

BEARDSLEY: Ari, he says he's tried to get into the U.K. by hiding in cars and trucks to go through the Channel Tunnel. He's been caught, but he's going to keep trying.

SHAPIRO: You mentioned that big camp called the Jungle that officials dismantled. And you and I both reported from the Jungle in 2015, when the vast majority of the people living there were from the Middle East - Syria and Afghanistan. So who is camping out in Calais these days?

BEARDSLEY: Well, I did not meet a single Syrian. There are many Sudanese, Somalians, where there is war and drought, and the Afghans are still there. There seem to be more of them since the Taliban took over. I met an Afghan lawyer who could no longer practice. He said the Taliban told him, none of your laws apply in this country anymore.

SHAPIRO: And are you seeing the same kind of zero-tolerance policy from French officials that we saw from Moroccan officials?

BEARDSLEY: Absolutely, Ari. We have reports of the police really harassing the migrants. Nothing seems to have changed. It's like a cat-and-mouse game, as it's been described. Aid workers say what's needed is a European-wide solution to let these migrants legally apply for asylum in Britain without resorting to smugglers. Instead, the French and British just trade blame, and the two countries have a new agreement. It's just a couple weeks old. Britain will pay France 75 million euros a year for France to increase police surveillance on the beaches.

But I spoke with Pierre Roques, who's with the humanitarian group L'Auberge des Migrants. He said the extra police will only make life more miserable for the migrants, and it won't stop them from coming. He says French officials should work to make people's lives a little less miserable and dire.

PIERRE ROQUES: People are not going to come in Calais from Afghanistan because we have - you have two more toilets or, like, some more heating system. It doesn't work like this. This is a narrative of fiction from the far right.

SHAPIRO: All right. Let's talk about what all of this means for the far right because we have seen anti-immigrant politicians gain power across Europe, from Italy to Sweden, Poland, Hungary. So how is the continent shifting on this issue? And do they acknowledge that climate change is a factor here?

BEARDSLEY: Yeah. Europeans know that climate change, especially in Africa, will push more people to come. But there is a growing weariness of migration from the African continent. You know, the million-plus Syrian migrants from the Middle East who went into Germany in 2015 because of their war, they definitely empowered the far-right party there. You've seen the far-right party gain many more seats in the French parliament this year. And in Italy, which is on the front lines of immigration - it has taken in nearly 90,000 migrants fleeing Africa in boats this year alone - there is a new far-right prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, who is cracking down. And she recently refused to let a boat carrying rescued migrants dock.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Thanks a lot.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.