Calais migrants: France wants more help from UK

UPDATED: The French and UK governments have steered clear of blaming each other over the ongoing Calais migrants crisis, but France’s interior minister upped the tone on Tuesday by demanding more action from London.

Calais migrants: France wants more help from UK
UK Border Force will send 100 more officers to Calais. Photo: AFP

France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said he expects “additional mobilisation” from Britain, the day after London said it would send 100 extra border guards to Calais.

In an interview with the La Croix newspaper Cazeneuve said Britain “needs to go beyond” its recent efforts in tackling the influx of migrants in Calais.

Those efforts have essentially involved paying millions of pounds for extra fencing at the site of the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais as well as extra security.

On Monday the British government said it would send 100 extra Border Force guards to Calais to help prevent the thousands of migrants amassed in the port town from making it across the Channel.

That announcement came after migrants had made thousands of attempts to break into the Channel Tunnel in recent days, including 1,700 on Sunday night alone.

Cazeneuve accepted that the British authorities had become “more involved” in trying to deal with the ongoing crisis and that “contacts” with London had increased in recent months.

Calls to move the border back to Britain

But despite Britain stumping up millions of pounds on fencing and security there is a growing feeling in France that the burden of the crisis is not being equally shared.

Opposition MP Xavier Bertrand said the 2003 agreement between London and Paris that effectively moved British border controls to the French side of the Channel needs to be ripped up.

“Let's let the migrants leave and let Mr Cameron handle his politics in his own way, but on his own island,” Bertrand said in an interview for Journal Du Dimanche.

The Touquet accords, were signed by then interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, were designed to stem the flow of migrants, but 12 years on, the crisis is arguably as bad as it’s ever been.

Cazeneuve himself said the “one-sided” accord “put a lot on the shoulders of France and very little on those of Britain”, but did not suggest any desire to seek a change.

At the moment both sides are trying to present a united front, that is clearly under strain as the migrants continue to make their way across the Mediterranean and up to northern France.

There was even calls from Britain that France should compensate British tourists who have been caught up in the chaos at Calais.

100 more Border Force guards

On Monday Britain's government promised new measures to crack down on illegal immigrants including sending 100 extra Border Force officials to Calais as the migrants crisis continued to dominate the headlines.

The move, announced by Communities Secretary Greg Clark, is set to be included in a new Immigration Bill that parliament will debate in the coming months.

A hundred more guards are to be placed on duty at the terminal in Calais, while UK Border Force officials are to begin working inside the control room of the cross-channel Eurotunnel from Monday.

“I think we have got a grip on the crisis. We saw a peak last week, since when the number of illegal migrants has tailed off,” said Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond after a meeting of the government's emergency COBRA committee.

“We have taken a number of measures in collaboration with the French authorities and Eurotunnel which are already having an effect and over the next day or two I would expect to have an even greater effect.”

Immigration is one of the most sensitive issues in British politics and Prime Minister David Cameron's centre-right government has been battling to bring the numbers down for years.

Images of migrants trying illegally to cross the Channel Tunnel from France to Britain have fuelled calls from political opponents for ministers to do more and Cameron has warned that the situation could last all summer.

In a joint editorial for this week's Sunday Telegraph, the French and British interior ministers warned that “our streets are not paved with gold” as Cameron's government seeks to dispel any perception that migrants have a soft landing in Britain.


Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


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.