‘We need to tell migrants the UK is not El Dorado’

The UK Ambassador to France Sir Peter Ricketts has weighed into the ongoing Calais migrants crisis by saying “Migrants need to be told that Britain is not El Dorado."

'We need to tell migrants the UK is not El Dorado'
UK Ambassador to France Sir Peter Ricketts with Queen Elizabeth at a garden party in Paris this summer. Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP

A day after French police in Calais were forced to fire tear gas at hundreds of migrants trying to force their way onto trucks to the UK, the British Ambassador to France says more needs to be done to explain to the refugees that Britain is far from paradise.

“An enormous number of illegal immigrants arrive in Europe via the Mediterranean from North Africa and Eritrea. A number cross Europe to get to Calais to go to the UK because they think the system is more generous,” Sir Peter Ricketts told La Voix du Nord newspaper.

“There is a continual need to explain to the migrants that the UK is not El Dorado,” the envoy added.

Nevertheless whatever explanations are being given to migrants by UK authorities they appear to be falling on deaf ears as migrants continue to pour into Calais where they spend their days risking their lives trying to get to the UK. 

Another problem for British authorities is that many migrants do not want to stay in France and claim asylum, citing everything from the complicated bureaucracy to the unfriendliness of locals and the lack of adequate accomodation.

The UK has come under pressure from the French government in recent months to do more to help authorities on this side of the Channel deal with the crisis.

Calais’s mayor had become so frustrated with the lack of support, that she threatened to close the busy cross-Channel port at one stage.

In September the UK government responded by agreeing to commit €15 million over three years to help make the port of Calais more secure.

The ambassador defended the British government’s contribution to efforts on the French side aimed at preventing the migrants from getting to the UK.

“We take the pressures on this city very seriously. We want to try to help and support the French deal with this situation. It is clear that in recent months, the number of migrants in Calais is increasing and this poses security problems,” he said.

“We have already invested a lot of money in previous years. This is an additional contribution which will be used primarily to increase security, to ensure the safety of its users, especially truck drivers

“We will also take joint action with France to support the victims of human trafficking and provide protection and support,” Ricketts added.

Those security problems were highlighted dramatically last month when hundreds of migrants stormed the port in a desperate bid to get on to a UK-bound ferry.

The incident was captured on the video below.

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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.