'Tired but happy': refugees arrive in France from Germany

A man reacts as refugees from Syria and Iraq arrive at a refugee centre in Champagne-sur-Seine, near Paris.
A man reacts as refugees from Syria and Iraq arrive at a refugee centre in Champagne-sur-Seine, near Paris.REUTERS

CHAMPAGNE-SUR-SEINE, France (AFP) - A first group of around 50 refugees arrived in France from Germany on Wednesday as Paris tries to ease pressure on its neighbour, which has received the bulk of the migrants streaming into Europe.

Some 53 Syrians and Iraqis left Munich in southern Germany on Tuesday night in a bus sent by Paris, and arrived in the small town of Champagne-sur-Seine to the south-east of Paris.

They are the first of some 1,000 refugees to be hosted by Paris.

After a harrowing sea and land journey to the heart of Europe, the refugees arrived wearily at their latest stop, making a "V" for victory sign to journalists as they got off the bus.

Oussama, 28, a civil engineer, said he was "tired but happy" after a "long and dangerous" 20-day journey from Baghdad to the Ile de France region.

"I am so tired I can't find the words," he said, managing a grin.

"In Iraq, life is so dangerous so we want to start a new life here."

The refugees were met by the Red Cross.

"We will go hand in hand with them as they carry out their administrative procedures, allowing for them to obtain refugee status in two to four months," said Jean-Jacques Eledjam, president of the French branch of the charity.

He said the refugees would be housed in "relatively comfortable" premises provided by the municipality.

Further groups of migrants were expected to arrive on Wednesday and be housed in a leisure centre north-west of Paris and a monastery in the region. Around 1,000 will have arrived by Friday, said the Red Cross.

Oussama said he had initially planned to go to Belgium or Finland.

"But when we heard that France could house us, we decided to come here," he said, adding that he was keen to learn French and then "get on with my life, do my job and settle in France."

Under pressure to respond to Europe's biggest migrant crisis since World War II, President Francois Hollande said Monday that France was prepared to take in 24,000 people over two years.