Assimilation is hard on both sides
Even a tolerant and welcoming neighborhood can find it challenging to accept hundreds of migrants, said Anne Crignon. Sociologist Isabelle Coutant saw that firsthand in the summer of 2015, when more than 1 million desperate people entered Europe seeking asylum. The Paris government housed some 1,400 men—mostly Afghans, Sudanese, and Eritreans mixed with some Iraqis and Chadians—in an empty high school building in the 19th arrondissement. In her book Migrants at Home, Coutant documented how, at first, locals exuded sympathy for their new neighbors, who had suffered “unimaginable distress and malnutrition” on their journeys to Europe. Many residents told one another tales of their own ancestors, from Armenia or Central Europe or Morocco, who had fled horrors and found sanctuary in France. But soon fear set in. The government, overwhelmed by the influx, had made no preparations to run the dormitory: There was “a key turn, and abandonment.” Fights broke out among the men in that “Tower of Babel,” and when a projectile landed in a neighboring playground, parents began to demand the migrants be removed, saying they had to protect their kids. The men in their “immaculately kept rooms,” meanwhile, became disillusioned with their sanctuary. “Why did they come here?” the residents complain. Why, indeed, the migrants wonder.