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CALAIS MIGRANTS CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

Calais mayor threatens to block Channel port

Fed up with the lack of help from British authorities in the ongoing migrants' crisis in Calais, the town's mayor has threatened to block the Channel port in order to send a strong message to London.

Calais mayor threatens to block Channel port
The Calais mayor wants to block the port to send a message to the UK to do more to help out with the migrants' crisis. Photo: AFP

Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart on Tuesday threatened to shut down the port unless Britain helps solve the problem of the hundreds of immigrants turning up there in a bid to sneak across the Channel.

"I could take the decision to block the port… I could bring pressure to bear," Bouchart told reporters in Paris after meeting Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

"It would be illegal," she recognised, "but today I want to make a firm statement to the British."

The mayor took issue with British immigration policy which, she complained, "is "considered as an Eldorado" by immigrants.

She also reproached London for demanding security is boosted at the Calais port without participating enough in financing the project, which, she said, cost €10 million ($13 million) a year.

Bouchart said she had not discussed the possibility of blocking the port with the interior minister, aware that he could not back such a measure.

"But I told him that I hoped he would have some strong negotiations with the British."

Cazeneuve, who was in London last Friday, had called on the British to help financially with security at the port, a ministerial source said.

Bouchart and Cazeneuve also agreed on opening a day centre for immigrants in Calais, many of them from Africa, and a night shelter for women and children.

There are around 1,300 immigrants in the northern French port.

Most are from Eritrea or Somalia and are hoping to reach England rather than seek asylum in France.

People fleeing war-torn Syria are adding to the rising numbers.

A Red Cross centre was opened for them in 1999 but rapidly became overcrowded, holding 2,000 people before it was closed in 2002, rather than the 800 it was built for.

Hundreds of would-be immigrants die in dangerous Mediterranean crossings every year, while others are detained by Italian police once they reach the southern EU member's territorial waters or the islands of Sicily or Lampedusa.

Clashes regularly break out between the immigrants in Calais.

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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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