UK should send back-up to Calais, France says

The UK should send its own officials across the Channel to Calais to help block the tide of illegal migrants hoping to travel to Britain, France's interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve suggested on Wednesday. He denied however he was referring to UK police officers.

UK should send back-up to Calais, France says
France's Interior Minister suggested UK police should be sent to Calais, before later backtracking. Photo: Carl Court/AFP

Bernard Cazeneuve's comments came as the French authorities struggle to cope with up to 2,300 migrants in the town and surrounding areas who want to travel to Britain.

But the idea was immediately dismissed by Britain's government, which said it was "for the French to maintain security and public order on their own soil".

In an interview on BBC radio, Cazeneuve was asked if he thought British police should be sent to Calais to assist.

"It would be very useful to have more policemen here and we try to find a way of being in a common system here concerning police, in order to explain to all the immigrants in Calais that it's impossible to cross the Channel," the minister said.

"We'd be very happy if it would be possible to have more co-operation concerning this point."

Cazeneuve said the two countries had had a "hard negotiation" over the issue and he had held "lots" of meetings with British Home Secretary Theresa May.

The comments were widely interpreted, including by the British government, as referring to a possible police deployment but the French interior ministry said Cazeneuve was referring to British civil servants, not police officers.

In response, Britain's Immigration and Security Minister James Brokenshire said in a statement: "It is for the French to maintain security and public order on their own soil and we will not be sending police to Calais."

Britain's government has pledged £12 million (€15 million, $19 million) over three years to boost security at the port, including shelling out for security fencing.

Last week, Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart appeared before a British parliamentary committee, saying that the border should be moved on to British territory "because it's up to you to decide the migrants you want to let in or not".

Calais has been home to groups of illegal migrants since authorities closed down the Sangatte immigrant detention centre in 2002.

There has been an even bigger influx in recent months as people arrive from restive countries including Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.

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French police cause misery for migrants in Calais

French police are inflicting misery on migrants in the northern port of Calais, routinely tearing down their tents and forcing them to wander the streets as part of a deterrence policy, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report published on Thursday.

French police cause misery for migrants in Calais
A migrant camp is evacuated by police forces in Calais in February 2019. Photo: Philippe HUGUEN / AFP.

The 75-page report documents methods used by authorities to prevent the emergence of another major migrant settlement in Calais, five years after the demolition of the sprawling “Jungle” camp which housed up to 10,000 people at its peak.

Calais has for years been a rallying point for migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa trying to sneak across the English Channel to Britain.

Faced with growing public anti-migrant sentiment, President Emmanuel Macron’s government has waged a campaign to prevent new camps emerging.

Police tactics include systematically tearing down migrants’ tents in the woods, on wasteland or under bridges, regularly confiscating their belongings and harassing NGOs trying to provide them with aid, according to New York-based HRW.

“The authorities carry out these abusive practices with the primary purposes of forcing people to move elsewhere, without resolving their
migration status or lack of housing, or of deterring new arrivals,” it said in the report entitled “Enforced Misery: The Degrading Treatment of Migrant Children and Adults in Northern France”.

‘Harass and abuse’

NGOs estimate the number of migrants currently living around Calais at between 1,500 and 2,000, including numerous families. Local authorities estimate that only 500 remain in the area.

Last week, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin ordered the eviction of a camp housing 400 migrants near a hospital in Calais, which was presented as a danger to the hospital’s patients and staff.

On that occasion the migrants were taken to temporary shelters but often they are left to wander the streets.

“When the police arrive, we have five minutes to get out of the tent before they destroy everything,” a Kurdish woman from Iraq told HRW.

The interior ministry did not respond to AFP’s request for comment on the report.

The government argues that the camps are havens for people smugglers, who command extortionate fees to help migrants cross to Britain, either in a small boat crossing the Channel in the dead of night or stowed away on a truck crossing by ferry or through the Channel Tunnel.

NGOs argue that the tactics do nothing more than make migrants already difficult lives even more miserable.

The report quoted the Calais-based Human Rights Observers group as saying that in some cases cleaning crews cut migrants’ tents while people are still inside, in order to force them out.

“If the aim is to discourage migrants from gathering in northern France, these policies are a manifest failure and result in serious harm,” Benedicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch, said.

French authorities “need a new approach to help people, not repeatedly harass and abuse them,” she added.

A total of 15,400 people attempted to cross the Channel in the first eight months of this year, a increase of 50 percent over the figure for the whole of 2020, according to French coast guard statistics.

“Exiles aren’t travelling to northern France because they’ve heard they can camp in the woods or stay under a bridge…They come because that’s where the border is,” Charlotte Kwantes, national coordinator of the Utopia 56 charity was quoted in the report as saying.