After house set on fire, French mayor resigns amid local battle over hosting asylum-seekers

PARIS (AP) — The mayor of a small French town whose home was set on fire amid a bitter battle over bringing in migrants is resigning from his job of overseeing an increasingly divided community.

Yannick Morez, a doctor who became mayor of Saint Brevin-les-Pins in 2017, said in a letter to the prefect of western France’s Loire-Atlantique region that he made the decision to step down because of the March 22 fire and a “lack of support from the state.”

“Neither my wife, nor my three children want me to continue after the attack,” Morez told French radio network France Bleu. “We could have died.”

The early morning fire, which lapped at the mayor’s house and destroyed two cars out front, remains under investigation. But it followed months of acrimony over a plan to set up a center for asylum-seekers in Saint Brevin, a coastal town with a population of about 14,000.

Outsiders, including far-right groups, fanned the rancor over the proposed center.

A similar collision over settling migrants led to an earlier nasty battle in the Brittany town of Callac, where the mayor finally ceded to those opposed to the plan.

The two situations in small-town France are emblematic of the division over the country’s policies for accomodating migrants, often from sub-Saharan Africa.

President Emmanuel Macron tweeted on Thursday his “solidarity and that of the nation” to the Saint Brevin mayor.

“These attacks against Yannick Morez … and his family are disgraceful,” Macron said.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne planned to invite Morez to a meeting next week, French media reported.

Morez said in his resignation letter, which was made public late Wednesday, that his decision came “after long reflection with my family.” The family was asleep when the fire broke out at about 5 a.m.

France Bleu quoted a statement by Morez saying he plans not only to resign but to leave the town he has lived in for 32 years at the end of June.

French anti-racism group MRAP denounced the reactions of residents who oppose welcoming migrants.

“Their sordid project that rejects everything that is ‘the Other,’ their identitarian delusions of the ‘great replacement,’ are frightening for each of us and for our entire society,” the group said in a statement Thursday.

The “great replacement” refers to an unproven theory by which native populations will be replaced by migrants from other religions and cultures, destroying their way of life.

A group backing the anti-migrant movement, Coordination Partout Callac, rejoiced at the planned departure of the “ardent defender” of the plan to put a center for asylum-seekers near schools in Saint Brevin. The group organized four protests against the plan.

“Even if all migrants are not dangerous individuals, it could be that (one), is and parents refuse to take the least risk for their children,” a Wednesday statement by the group said.

Still, the group worried what will become of the asylum center plan, which will be in the hands of the municipal council until a new mayor is elected.

Saint Brevin has housed migrants in the past, with no known reports of problems.


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