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IMMIGRATION

France and UK to sign joint deal on migrants

France's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and his British counterpart Theresa May will sign a deal this week to try and alleviate the migrant crisis in the northern port of Calais, the government said on Tuesday.

France and UK to sign joint deal on migrants
Migrant tents at The New Jungle in Calais, northern France. Photo: AFP
The deal — which will be signed in the northern French port — will focus on securing the area where thousands of people desperate to get to Britain have gathered, tackling human trafficking rings and improving humanitarian aid for migrants, France's interior ministry said.
   
The situation in Calais has hit the headlines in the past weeks as migrants make attempt after attempt to enter the under-Channel Eurotunnel to reach Britain, some paying for it with their lives.
   
Last month, a Sudanese man in his 30s died, apparently crushed to death by a lorry. 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.
   
Some 3,000 people from Africa, the Middle East and Asia are camped in Calais in slum-like conditions, and while France and Britain have tried to present a united front in tackling the crisis, the issue has strained ties between the two countries.
   
Politicians in Britain have accused France of security failings, while London has been slammed by Paris for making it too easy for migrants to work illegally, thus luring them to its shores.
   
Britain has pledged £22 million (€31 million, $34 million) so far towards improving security at the French end of the Channel Tunnel.
   
And Prime Minister David Cameron promised “more fencing, more resources, more sniffer dog teams” to aid French police in their nightly cat-and-mouse game with the migrants.
   
The two ministers will visit the site around the Eurotunnel rail terminal in Coquelles outside Calais where security has been increased, sparking a recent drop in the number of attempts by migrants to breach the tunnel.
   
Cazeneuve will then travel to Berlin to meet his German counterpart Thomas de Maiziere for talks on Europe's migration policies, his ministry said.
   
Germany, as Europe's biggest economy, has become the top destination for refugees and the Handelsblatt newspaper on Tuesday quoted government sources as saying the number of people seeking asylum could surge to 750,000 this year, far above the 500,000 initially predicted.
   
The country has recorded more than 200 arson attacks against homes for asylum-seekers this year, and Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Sunday that the issue of asylum could become a bigger challenge for the European Union than the Greek debt crisis.
   
EU border agency Frontex on Tuesday reported a record high of 107,500 migrants at the European Union's borders last month.
   
And the number of migrants arriving in crisis-hit Greece is accelerating dramatically, with nearly 21,000 landing on the overstretched Greek islands last week alone, the United Nations said.

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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