A rally was held in the heart of the French capital Saturday to express solidarity with the thousands of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe each day, and to urge the European Union to take action.
“We are all descendants of immigrants,” one placard said, as the crowd chanted, “Open the borders!”
Smaller rallies were held in other towns and cities across France, with around 10,000 people demonstrating in total.
French public opinion has been divided over how to handle the growing number of asylum-seekers, amidst a rise in support for the anti-immigration National Front party and high unemployment.
But the crowd at Place de la République – the same square where tens of thousands gathered after the deadly terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine in January – was a demonstration of the shock many French people felt this week at the widely publicised photo of the drowned Syrian toddler washed up on a Turkish beach.
On Thursday, France and Germany agreed to propose a permanent and mandatory system to take in refugees and asylum seekers, especially Syrians, in the European Union.
French President François Hollande said following the announcement, “These men and women, with their families, are fleeing war and persecution. They need international protection.”
According to the latest figures, about 350,000 refugees and migrants have reached the border of the European Union this year alone, with the 28-nation bloc showing little of a co-ordinated response to the crisis.
Syrians fleeing a brutal civil conflict are the largest group of refugees, followed by Afghans and Eritreans.