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IMMIGRATION

Asylum seekers found in tanker on France-UK ferry

Police in the UK rescued 15 asylum seekers who were hidden inside a tanker on board a ferry from the French port port of Calais on Wednesday. Some of the stowaways were found suffering from breathing difficulties and chest pains.

Asylum seekers found in tanker on France-UK ferry
File photo: Robert Francois/AFP

British police said they had arrested two people on Wednesday after 15 asylum seekers were found hidden in a tanker on board a ferry at the southern English port of Dover.

Two of the immigrants were taken to hospital after their discovery on board the Spirit of France ferry run by British firm P&O, a spokesman for Port of Dover Police said.

Several other members of the group received medical attention but were not in a life-threatening condition.

The local ambulance service said some of the asylum seekers were suffering from "minor breathing difficulties and chest pains".

A powder was found in the tanker but police said it was not hazardous.

The police spokesman said: "The Port of Dover can confirm that a critical incident is under way concerning 15 asylum seekers found in a tanker on board P&O's Spirit of France.

"Emergency services are at the scene and are dealing with the situation in close cooperation with port staff.

"Thirteen of the asylum seekers are non-critical but two have been taken to hospital.

"Two drivers are in custody."

He declined to comment on where the asylum seekers may have come from.

Services from the port were not disrupted by the discovery on the ferry, which travels between Dover and Calais in northeast France, the spokesman said.

In 2000 the bodies of 58 Chinese illegal immigrants were found in a lorry at the port. The victims suffocated after they were smuggled into Britain in a sealed container.

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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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