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IMMIGRATION

Calais migrants: Number of arrests soar in 2014

More than 7,400 migrants have been arrested in the French Channel port of Calais for trying to illegally cross the Channel into Britain in the first half of 2014, more than double the figure a year ago, officials said on Friday.

Calais migrants: Number of arrests soar in 2014
Migrants wait by the roadside near Calais in the hope of boarding trucks to try to get to the UK. Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP

The prefecture of the French port town said 7,414 people had been arrested between January and June this year against 3,129 a year earlier.

"We have noted that there are considerably more illegal migrants, and during our checks we find more," a source at Calais port told AFP.

In the first two weeks of July alone, some 1,200 people were arrested but most of them were released because the detention centres are already overcrowded.

French police have been trying for years to dislodge migrant camps in and around Calais.

The Local has reported how French riot police have pulled down numerous migrant camps in recent weeks, much to the anger of humanitarian aid groups, who are demanding France come up with a new policy for its treatment of migrants.

“We have to take into account the reality of the situation and this zone is a part of a circuit for people seeking asylum in Britain. It’s not going to stop tomorrow,” Jean-Claude Mas, secretary general of immigration support group La Cimade, told The Local recently.

“Instead of discouraging people who have nothing to lose, and who are willing to do anything to make the crossing at Calais, why not get organized?”

Last week the mayor of Calais passed a decree that banned the setting up of camps in certain areas, which he said was causing a problem for public order and sanitation.

The flow of migrants has remained persistent, with many migrants hoping to hide in trucks or other vehicles crossing to Britain, where they believe conditions are better for would-be refugees than in France.

Most of the immigrants come from the Horn of Africa, especially from Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea, a source close to the case said.

"They arrive in Lampedusa (Italy's southernmost tip) and come to France by train or bus and get to Calais," the source said.

At the three points where there are Channel crossings – Calais, Dunkirk and the Channel Tunnel – 10,500 migrants were arrested in the first half of 2014, against 5,133 a year earlier.

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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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