September 10, 2015 / 1:14 PM / 4 years ago

French opinion rapidly swings in favor of refugees, poll shows

PARIS (Reuters) - French public opinion has swung dramatically to majority support for an intake of more migrants from war zones like Syria, a new poll showed as the country welcomed further busloads of asylum seekers on Thursday.

People hold a banner that says "We love refugees" as they take part in a demonstration asking for a change in the refugee policy in Europe on the Republique square in Paris, France, September 5, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

The Elabe polling agency said support had risen to 53 percent from 44 percent only a week ago when it ran the same poll, suggesting that people changed tune after seeing harrowing images of drowned toddler Aylan Kurdi and the warm welcome that Germany has extended to droves of asylum-seekers arriving there.

President Francois Hollande, plagued by other polls showing he would be knocked out of the next election by anti-immigrant National Front party leader Marine Le Pen, has promised France will welcome 24,000 migrants as part of a broader plan to take 160,000 into the 28-country European Union.

“The pictures of Aylan Kurdi triggered a new awareness by giving this horrific situation a face, that of a small child,” Elabe head Bernard Sananes said.

“There’s also the guilty conscience. The images coming from Germany have undoubtedly surprised and shaken up French mindsets.”

While the latest poll will be encouraging for the Socialist Hollande, it remains to be seen whether further soundings of the French in the coming weeks confirm a lasting change.

Some 84 percent of National Front supporters are opposed to welcoming migrants, and Sananes noted that 60 percent of backers of former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s mainstream centre-right Les Republicains party were also against a big influx of asylum seekers.

Sarkozy, tipped to run again for president in 2017, said in a newspaper interview published on Thursday that it was time to suspend and renegotiate the Schengen accords that allow people to cross most of the EU’s internal borders unchecked.

“Schengen no longer works,” Sarkozy, who accused Hollande of taking his policy cue from Germany’s Merkel, told Le Figaro.

After a joint appeal by Merkel and Hollande for all EU member countries to accept binding quotas of asylum seekers, over a hundred Syrians and Iraqis have arrived by bus from Germany in the past two days and been offered lodgings pending processing of their requests for refugee status, for now mostly in towns north and south of Paris.

Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.

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