Caught between a rock and a hard place: Residents along the France-Spain border frustrated by road closures.

Along the scenic French coast, north of the Spanish border, vacationers soaked up the mild autumn sun, relishing the Mediterranean’s embrace and embarking on challenging coastal treks.

However, beneath this picturesque facade, local sentiments simmer. Two years prior, without ample notice, the French authorities sealed off four minor routes connecting this region with Spain.

France attributes this to curbing illegal immigration, associating it with counter-terrorism measures.

Yet, the denizens of Banyuls-sur-Mer, numbering around 6,000, have for generations maintained deep economic, cultural, and personal bonds with those across the border in Spain. Numerous signs now scattered around the town advocate for reinstating the border crossing.

Among the closed routes, Col de Banyuls holds a legendary reverence. This path witnessed a massive exodus of Spaniards to France amidst the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and facilitated the escape of allied forces and Jews during Nazi reign.

An advocacy group, comprising over a thousand members and named “Alberes without borders” after this Pyrenees segment, has been proactive, staging demonstrations and legal proceedings to restore the road.

Pierre Becque, a retired attorney spearheading the movement, remarked during a drive up the famed Col de Banyuls, “Almost every Banyuls family has had kin across both borders at various historic junctures.” For him, the border is virtually nonexistent: “Historically, people crisscrossed for myriad reasons, be it escaping Franco’s regime, employment, superior education, or personal causes.”

The border’s presence is signified by enormous rocks obstructing the route. Intriguingly, a stone seemed slightly displaced, hinting at passage for smaller vehicles. Becque jestingly attributed it to potent local gusts.

Touring cyclists, unaware of any transgression, easily navigated the blockade. Two British mountain biking enthusiasts, Lisa and Patrick, cited the absence of warning signage and Google Maps showing an open route.

A French official clarified to the BBC that sealing minor pathways aids law enforcement in concentrating on primary transit routes. She highlighted an 82% surge in illicit border crossings in 2022 and hinted at a possible reopening upon successful deployment of joint French-Spanish police squads.

Yet, prioritizing this seems bleak, especially with France’s heightened terror alert, following a tragic incident in Arras.

Jean-Michel Sole, Banyuls’ mayor, ardently communicates with Spanish peers, urging the French regime to reinstate the crossings. Disputing the official rationale, he stated, “A remote mountainous route hardly seems an ideal terror conduit. Furthermore, migrants predominantly traverse on foot, rendering boulders ineffective.”

This blockade also impacts the region’s pivotal wine sector. Previously, grape harvesters from Spain would make a brief journey, now extended substantially, affecting harvest outcomes.

On Spain’s side, Espolla, a tranquil Catalan hamlet, has erected a massive stone from the sealed border as a centerpiece in its central roundabout.

Local advocate Josep Maria Tegido emphasizes the route’s historic significance and laments the hindrance posed to age-old customs and economic activities.

Chris Bockman penned “Are you the foie gras correspondent? Another slow news day in south-west France.”

Andre Weyne

Journalist specializing in Geo-Politics with a focus on international wars. Has a variety of sources of information about celebrities.

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