Syrian refugees at Calais demand asylum in UK

Syrian refugees at Calais demand asylum in UK
Syrian refugees camp out on a footbridge at the ferry terminal in Calais. Their signs read "Thank you François Hollande," and "We want to talk with David Cameron." Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP
French officials on Friday offered temporary visas to a group of Syrian refugees, some of them on hunger strike, who have been camped out on a walkway at the ferry terminal in Calais for days. They have been demanding to join their families in the UK.

Denis Robin, head of the regional authority for Pas-de-Calais, on Friday offered temporary legal status in France to 60 or so Syrian refugees, who have been camping on a footbridge at the ferry terminal of Calais since Wednesday.

The group are demanding passage on a ferry to the UK, in order to join family members there, and around 20 of them have been on hunger strike in protest at their plight.

The Syrians have placed signs on the footbridge saying "We want to talk with David Cameron" and "Take us to the UK," as well as "Thank you François Hollande and people of France."

Earlier in the day, French CRS riot police had to call a halt their 8am attempt to forcibly evacuate the refugees from the footbridge when two of them sat atop a neighbouring building and threatened to throw themselves off it, according to TF1.

“Today, the Syrians present here have put themselves in a deadlock which is not going to move their situation forward,” Robin said

“What we can do is give them a status on French soil, so that in the immediate term they won’t have any further problems in France,” he added.

Robin explained that this legal status would allow them, if necessary, to apply for asylum in France, adding that they would have a “95-percent chance of success.”

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has pledged to fast-track the applications of Syrians seeking asylum.

‘In France, even animals are treated better than us’

However, the protesting refugees, most of whom arrived a month ago in Calais,have voiced disappointment at the way they were treated in France.

"We thought that France was the country where human rights are respected," said Tarik, a 19-year old from the southern Syrian city of Deraa near the border with Jordan.

"But we live outside like dogs, hunted down by the police, we see we are not welcome, how can we seek asylum here?" he said.

The former engineering student said he was convinced he would find "more humanity" in Britain and eventually bring over his mother and younger brothers currently living in Egypt.

Ali, a 38-year-old, said although French President François Hollande had taken a strong stand against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons, the French were not welcoming at all.

"Why does the president say one thing and the police another?" Ali said, adding that he had spent $13,000 (€9,500) to come to a country where the "president said 'we must help Syrians'".

"Here even animals are better treated than us," he said.

The UN refugee agency has said 17 countries, including France, have agreed to receive quotas of refugees fleeing the bloody conflict in Syria.

France has had only 850 registered demands for asylum from Syrians since the start of this year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said late last month.

For its part, Germany has offered to take in 5,000 Syrian refugees.

Austria has offered to accept 500. Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland have pledged to grant asylum to 1,650 Syrians in total.

Last year, some 24,000 Syrians claimed asylum in Europe. Between January and July this year, another 20,776 claimed asylum, according to UNHCR data.

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