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Cantona urges French families to take in refugees

© Stéphane de Sakutin, AFP | Former French footballer Eric Cantona is known for his political outbursts.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-09-10

French football legend Eric Cantona has weighed in on Europe’s migrant crisis with characteristic verve by urging French households to welcome refugees.

In an interview with French daily Le Parisien on Thursday, the former footballer-turned-actor said he was “of course” ready to host people fleeing war and persecution in their home countries.

“And I hope we are all ready to do so, all 65 million Frenchmen,” he said, blasting those who “close borders and watch people die”.

Cantona said he didn't mean every single household should welcome a refugee, conceding that it would mean "a lot of migrants".

France has promised to take in 24,000 refugees over the next two years, thereby meeting the target set by the European Commission. The first groups of Syrians and Iraqis arrived from Germany on Wednesday.

Critics on the left of the ruling Socialist Party say the government should have been swifter and more generous in its response to the refugee crisis, pointing to Germany’s activism on the issue and its decision to welcome some 800,000 people this year.

But Hollande’s government appears weary of giving ammunition to the far-right National Front party, which is fiercely opposed to welcoming refugees.

Last week, an opinion poll published by French daily Le Parisien said that 55 percent of people surveyed were opposed to softening rules for migrants seeking refugee status in France.

Libyan 'mayhem'

Cantona, 49, said the government’s cautious approach was “unworthy of the left”.

“We’re keeping immigration at a minimum because 55 percent of the French are against it and the far right is on the rise,” said the man Manchester United fans still call “The King”.

Cantona said France had a particular duty to help refugees because of its role in the 2011 military intervention in Libya, which in toppling Colonel Muammar Gaddafi also triggered the country’s implosion and pushed hundreds of thousands of desperate people across the Mediterranean.

“We go to war for economic reasons, then people flee their country because we caused mayhem and now we’re not even capable of welcoming them,” he railed.

Since his retirement from football in 1997, Cantona has been a vocal campaigner for a number of French charities. His provocative statements regularly make headlines, including in the English press.

In 2010, he urged French citizens to trigger “a new revolution” by withdrawing all their bank savings in order to destroy a political system “built on the power of the banks”. His call spawned a social media campaign that attracted tens of thousands of people, but the bank run never materialized.

Two years later he landed another PR coup by announcing a surprise bid for the French presidency. The move soon turned out to be a publicity stunt designed to raise awareness of France’s shortage of social housing.

Date created : 2015-09-10


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