CROSSING the ALPS READ MORE
From Oulx to Briançon
Italian French border, April 2021
The Alps are another border to cross for the thousands of migrants on their way to the European Union. After the Bosnian, Croatian and Slovenian ones, those are other mountains to climb, more snow, other more mountain paths in the woods, other more freezing nights under the sky, and more cold weather to fight against.
Since 2017, the Val di Susa has become the theatre of the so-called "Alpine Route", the overland route that migrants use to leave Italy to reach France. In the beginning, the path involved the town of Bardonecchia and the Colle della Scala mountain, but less than a year later it was abandoned due to its extreme difficulty of travel. From 2018 to today, all migrants who intend to go to Montgenèvre arrive by train at the Oulx station and then try to illegally cross the border. Every night 20-25 people wait for the dark to illegally cross the border. They are citizens from Afghanistan, Iran, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Ghana, Gambia, Guinea, Mali. Single men, but also many families, all from three well-defined areas - middle east, north Africa, and West Africa - and two dangerous routes: the Balkan one by land and the Libyan one by sea.
Until March 2021, the reception places where migrants could find temporary refreshment in Oulx were the "Rifugio Fraternità Massi" with about 55 beds located in the premises of the parish of Father Chiampo, and the “Casa Cantoniera Autogestita", a former roadhouse on the state road 24 lately occupied by some anarchic groups. After the evacuation of the “Casa Cantoniera Autogestita” on March 23 at the behest of ANAS and local authorities, the towns now find themselves having just a single overcrowded centre for migrants that tries to accommodate all migrants in transit. The Italian Red Cross supports the refuge giving shelter in the “Safe Point” near the Oulx train station to anybody needs during the day. During the night they also give information and hot drinks in Claviere to the migrants who want to try the game.
In the refuge, migrants stay as little as possible; the extreme proximity to the French border pushes them to leave almost immediately; everyone has had the rhythm of the game in their body for years and they have an urgent desire to go, to cross the border and, for someone of them, to finally arrive. From 2017 to August 2020, MEDU - Doctors for Human Rights - reports that about 10.000 people have crossed the Val di Susa. From September 2020 to March 2021 this number reached about 5,000 units. The pandemic temporarily slowed the march towards the border, but definitely didn’t stop it. The forecast for the next summer season is easy to guess.
Leaving Oulx, there is only one way to France: get to Claviere with the last bus at dusk and travel through the woods the 12km that separate the last Italian town from Briançon, the first place where he can find help in France. The night crossing through the woods on unpaved roads is very demanding: appropriate clothes and shoes are distributed before leaving the refuge because the cold and the snow of the winter season at 2,000 meters above sea level are a serious danger on their path. Bears and wolves are another real threat for those who venture into the woods, but it is the PaF - French border police - the greatest danger: anyone caught crossing the border illegally is taken to the police station in Montgenèvre and sent back to Italy the next morning after a night stop in a security cell. No asylum applications are accepted, not even when clearly requested from migrants when they are identified at the police station. This constitutes a violation of the rights of asylum seekers, yet another violation of the rights of migrants on European territory.
Thanks to the help of a group of volunteers on the French side who walk the many paths during the night and try to intercept migrants before the PaF, they arrive quickly in Briancon, avoiding getting lost in the mountains. On the French side, there is the “Refuge Solidaire”, a structure managed by the Tous Migrant association that has been welcoming all migrants in transit 24/7 for years. The facility offers everyone a place to sleep, food, information, and medical care thanks to the collaboration between the local hospital and the Medicine du Monde association.
Every night migrants inevitably arrive cold and wet at the Briançon refuge from the night walking in the snow through the woods. Inevitably, however, every morning other migrants leave the refuge, someone in the direction of Paris or Calais, headed to Germany, England, or Denmark, each one headed towards their dream of a better life.
CROSSING the ALPS-Front Page
CROSSING the ALPS-Summary Page