Why has France been so dangerous lately

Border between Italy and FranceDangerous escape routes across the Alps

The small Italian town of Oulx is surrounded by an impressive mountain panorama. The snow-capped Alps rise on all sides. But many who arrive here want to get on as quickly as possible: refugees on their way to France. The mountain peaks are the last big hurdle for them.

"We want to make them aware of the dangers that lurk in the mountains. We live here and know very well how dangerous the path is, especially in winter.

Local residents help with clothes

Sylvia Massara is actually a French teacher at the local high school, every Wednesday she volunteers in the emergency shelter in Oulx. Your place of work today: a room packed full of boxes and clothes, the clothes closet.

"We try to reduce the dangers with the clothes and the explanations that we give them for the path. We can't do more than that. Because we can't accompany them."

A young man in jeans and sneakers enters the room.

"Do you need clothes for the mountains?"

"Yes, for the mountains, for the way to France."

"What shoe size?"

"Are there also sports shoes?"

"Yes, but you can't walk through the snow with it."

"Is there still so much snow?"

"Yes. It's too dangerous with sneakers. There are people who have lost fingers and feet in the mountains."

The young man is given snowshoes, ski pants and thick gloves. Tomorrow he wants to go on.

"I left Algeria in October 2019. My visa applications for France had all been rejected. So I set out on my way. Because the sea crossing is too dangerous, I took the land route."

He was stuck in refugee camps in Bosnia-Herzegovina for 16 months before finding a way across the EU's external border. Now one last border separates him from his destination: Paris.

The refugees inform each other about which escape route promises the most opportunities. The route between Oulx on the Italian side and Montgenèvre on the French side is becoming increasingly popular. Other alpine passes are either more dangerous or are even more closely monitored.

Accompaniment on the way over the mountains

But even here there are always incidents. At least five refugees have died of hypothermia while crossing the border since 2016, plus a number of frostbite and amputation. That is why volunteers on the French side set out for the mountains every evening to accompany refugees safely into the valley and to take care of the injured. "Tous Migrants" is the name of their initiative - "We are all migrants."

Baptiste, a young man around 30, is one of the volunteers.

"I'm hiding here behind this pillar. The border post is down there. From here we can watch what the police are doing. And right below there is also a route from Italy. This is especially popular with people who don't goes well because it's the easiest way. "

Volunteers are also checked by the border guards

The starting point of the rescue operations is Montgenèvre, a ski resort located at 1900 meters directly on the border. Gendarmerie and border guards patrol every minute - sometimes in police cars, sometimes in plain clothes. The French border police have been particularly present in recent months. Officially to fight terrorism and because of the corona pandemic. Since then, Tous Migrant's volunteers have been checked even more often. In December, two of them were arrested and charged with aiding and abetting illegal entry. Their actions are actually not illegal, at least as long as they are on French soil.

Today the volunteers from Tous Migrants manage to bring an Afghan family to the nearby county town of Briançon. There is also an emergency shelter there that takes them in. The evening does not end well for four other refugees.