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CALAIS MIGRANT CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

Migrant crisis: EU sends millions to aid France

The European Commission offered on Tuesday to help France and Britain deal with the migrant crisis at the Channel Tunnel, as police on both sides braced for new attempts at the crossing.

Migrant crisis: EU sends millions to aid France
Migrants put up a sign at a camp in Calais asking for help. Photo: AFP

The EC said in a statement that it would send a first instalment of financial assistance to France of €20 million ($22 million), less than a day after some 600 fresh attempts were made to penetrate the tunnel, according to a police source.

The situation in the northern French port of Calais has hit the headlines in the past week, with people desperate to reach Britain making attempt after attempt to breach Eurotunnel defences, some paying for it with their lives.

Last week, a Sudanese man in his 30s died, apparently crushed to death by a lorry, and at least 10 people have been killed since June trying to get to Britain where many already have family and work is perceived as easier to find.

The EC's Migration and Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said the first instalment of a special grant would now be sent to help Paris deal with its side of the crisis.

Britain has already received €27 million.

“This comes from the total of over €266 million earmarked for France and over €370 million earmarked for the UK for the period covering 2014-20,” Avramopoulos said in a statement.

The EC also offered the two countries its technical assistance, including help to process asylum applications through a support office.

“The European Borders Agency, Frontex, can help identify and register migrants, collaborate with countries of origin and transit to speed up the issuing of travel documents for return, and coordinate and finance joint return operations,” it added.

'Solidarity, responsibility'

A police source said earlier Tuesday some 500 migrants had been seen overnight next to the Channel Tunnel site near Calais, and of the 600 attempts they made to enter, around 400 were repelled by authorities.

Of the other 200 people, 180 were caught within the site and removed and a further 20 were arrested.

Eurotunnel, which operates the Channel Tunnel, was also inspecting a section of one of the undersea tunnels for an “anomaly” that was causing delays earlier Tuesday, the group said, though traffic returned to normal later in the day.

The crisis in Calais has become a cross-Channel political hot potato and has seen French police bolster their presence in Calais with 120 additional officers.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose government on Monday announced new measures to crack down on illegal immigrants, came under fire last week for comments in which he referred to “swarms” of people seeking to get into the country.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, meanwhile, has urged Britain to do more to help with the crisis.

But commissioner Avramopoulos warned the Calais crisis is “another stark example of the need for a greater level of solidarity and responsibility in the way we deal with migratory pressures in Europe”.

“We are facing a migratory crisis of extraordinary proportions that is very much linked to the conflicts occurring in the wider periphery of Europe,” he said.

“We must act in a united way to address a challenge that surpasses national boundaries,” he added.

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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