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Ever Since the refugee crisis hit the European continent in 2015, the scenic Col de ‘Echelle mountain pass on the alpine border between Italy and France has been used as an unrestricted access point for illegal migration into France from Italy. And so, it was here that the Generation Identitaire (Identity) volunteers took the bold step over one weekend in April to secure this particular pass themselves. This patriotic gesture had a very clear intention: to send a resounding message to the French government that the mass influx of illegal migrants would be resisted by the people. If they were proven to be successful then the message would hopefully make it clear that with just enough backbone and willpower, the borders of Europe can be secured.

After what transpired then over this weekend, 21 – 22 April, Generation Identity scored a resounding victory much to the chagrin and embarrassment of the French authorities - the Ministry of the Interior in particular. An estimated 80 to 100 Identitarians, most of them under 30 years of age, decided to defend the border checkpoint at the Col de ‘Echelle mountain pass 25 km from the Briancon ski resort. Using their own funds and financial support by online crowd-funding initiatives, they erected a physical barrier and formed a cordon to block the path of any illegal migrants who might try crossing the French-Italian border at this poorly protected spot. The group also employed helicopters to highlight the need for stronger border patrols.

This particular section of the French-Italian border has often been woefully monitored by border patrols leading to thousands of illegal migrants using the pass as an access route into France and northern Europe. In the previous 12 months, the flow of illegal migrants using this passage has grown excessively. More than 2000 illegal migrants have already been officially documented, but this figure does not tally with unofficial estimates of those undocumented who have been entering France without restraint. The present French government under Emmanuel Macron has refused to strengthen border security or increase border police budgets, so it required a group of concerned young citizens to highlight a core problem now affecting all of Western Europe. Generation Identity made it quite clear what their intentions were by placing a giant banner in the area which read: ‘Closed Border – You Will Not Make Europe Home – No Way! – Back to Your Homeland!’

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The Identitarians are promoting the idea of implementing the Australian No Way policy to curb illegal immigration that is now swamping Europe. The group regarded their gesture as a resounding success with no migrants using the pass to gain entry to France from Italy over those two days. However, according to the French journal, Le Monde, this gesture provoked a typically strong pro-migrant reaction from both the mainstream media and far-left activists such as Antifa. Pierre Henry, of the far-left pro-asylum group ‘France Terre d’Asile’ condemned the Defend Europe mission and called for Generation Identity to be dissolved.

The liberal newspaper, ‘Libération’ compared Generation Identity to Nazis while another left-wing journalist Alexis Poulin stated:

"The time of the helicopter militia has arrived and where are the police of the republic to prevent armed gangs from making the law? We haven’t learned anything. The dark years are catching up with us."

Yet, not long after the departure of Generation Identity from the area, 300 to 400 French and Italian pro-migrant activists, from the George Soros funded Antifa and Briser le Frontieres groups, assisted more than 30 migrants to cross the border illegally. They marched to the adjacent Col de Montgenèvre mountain pass with the migrants on Sunday but, due mainly to the attention brought to bear by this latest Defend Europe mission, these pro-migrant militants were met by French police after which a violent confrontation ensued. One police car was damaged in the affray, with two police officers injured. Two of the pro-migrant activists were arrested by French police at the border for the "assistance to the entry of foreigners in an irregular situation into the national territory." Authorities at the Haute-Alps prefecture, the area where this incident took place, stated that they were continuing to monitor the situation.

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In a press release, Generation Identity declared their action a success:

"Our continued efforts have shown that it doesn’t take much to patrol this area, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by the French Government. As a result of our actions, the French interior ministry has now pledged to send security forces to the French-Italian border to ensure that it is secured against any illegal migrants trying to cross it; No migrants should be allowed to enter France illegally on this route. The French do not want any more immigration! These illegal migrants should be neither in France nor in Italy, but in their home country."

However, it was the initial reaction of French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb that was most telling. He denounced the action of the Defend Europe mission stating:

"I condemn the gestures (by Generation Identity) at Col de l’Echelle. Only government authorities have the right to take action in our territory."

This proved to then be an embarrassing admission of the French authorities’ lack of effectiveness in securing its own border; a group of volunteer citizens could do what the French border patrol has been failing at for many years now. The fact that Collomb cited the group’s actions during a speech at the National Assembly was quite rightly seen though as a victory.

In a statement published shortly afterwards, Generation Identity said that their operation had made the French government reconsider its stance on immigration:

"All that was needed were a hundred determined young people to stop migrants from crossing at the Col de l’Echelle; The government has clearly recognised the situation highlighted by Generation Identitaire and was obliged to react.’ The group also stated that ‘The wave of economic migrants is getting bigger and bigger and is the main reason for our loss of French and European identity but also the main cause of violence (in Europe)."

The mission is now Generation Identity’s second major project in highlighting the urgent need to protect Europe from unfettered mass immigration. In 2017 the affiliated Defend Europe group chartered a 422-tonne boat aimed at blocking the search and rescue vessels run by NGOs for transporting migrants from Libya to Italy. Although initially, the mission was hampered by numerous problems, including severe opposition from far-left activist groups, the group claimed it a success in stopping people smuggling into Europe. Partly due to the attention drawn by Defend Europe, Libyan and Italian authorities decided to curb the activities of NGO vessels operating off the Libyan coast. According to spokesman Martin Sellner;

“Yes, Defend Europe has been a political success. Only two months ago, many NGOs sailed in front of the Libyan coasts, like cabs waiting for customers. Today, there is only one.”

Although the group has not disclosed undertaking any similar actions for the foreseeable future, these missions have demonstrated Generation Identity’s highly coordinated strategic approach when implementing their plans. They also serve to show how a concerted effort by a group of concerned volunteers to safeguard the security of Europe’s borders can not only prove to be resoundingly successful, but also serve as benchmarks for what is possible. European citizens do have influence if they are willing to organize themselves for the defence of their culture.


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Eugene OBrien

by Eugene OBrien

Eugene O'Brien is a freelance journalist who mainly focuses on feature stories relevant to Ireland and the EU. He is based in Dublin.

Dublin, Ireland