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REFUGEE CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

Syrian refugees turfed out of Calais camps

French police on Monday fired tear gas as they broke down several makeshift camps around the port city of Calais, leaving nearly 400 people, mostly Syrian refugees, without shelter.

Syrian refugees turfed out of Calais camps
Riot police clear out refugees from illegal camps in Calais. Photo: AFP

A local government source told AFP that aside from the sprawling “New Jungle” where some 3,000 people have set up camp — most seeking desperately to get to England — “any illegal settlement cannot remain and will result in evacuation.”

With nowhere to go, about 50 of those evacuated staged a sit-in at the port, accompanied by members of the “No Border” movement, refusing to go to the “New Jungle.”

The slum-like migrant camp sprung up after the closure of notorious Red Cross camp Sangatte in 2002, which had become overcrowded and prone to violent riots.

That camp also strained cross-Channel relations as London saw it as luring migrants to Calais from where they tried to make their way to England.

However migrants and refugees have kept coming and the “New Jungle” has swelled along with the numbers of those making  often deadly attempts to smuggle themselves across the Channel.

(Photo: AFP)

“The Syrians refuse to go there because of the insecurity there,” said an official from Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World).

Police fired tear gas and took three “No Border” militants into custody while driving the group out of their makeshift camp.

Two other camps where Syrians and African migrants have been living for several months, were also dismantled.

Another, home to mostly Eritreans, was bulldozed.

Under the driving rain, groups of people, including women and children, wandered around Calais looking for a new place to set up home.

The move comes after France was criticised for offering aid and lodging to new refugees arriving in Germany, while abandoning the thousands of “migrants” already living in France in camps like the New Jungle.

“For years we’ve been asking the government to do more to respond to the needs of those in Calais,” Jean-François Corty from Médecins du Monde told The Local, adding that the calls for help by his group and other charities had mostly fallen on deaf ears.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls last month said officials would soon turn the “Jungle” there into a properly serviced “humanitarian camp” with tents to house 1,500 migrants. But that is far below the total number of people, many from Eritrea, Sudan, and Syria, currently living there.
 
“They need proper hard structures, not tents,” said Corty, whose charity which has been helping migrants in Calais.

The migrants and refugees in Calais initially tried to smuggle themselves onto trucks crossing on ferries to make their way to Britain, a promised land for them, but changed tactics as security was stepped up.

In July hundreds tried to storm the Eurotunnel site nightly to enter the undersea tunnel — several of whom paid with their lives — but figures have fallen amid tighter security.

Calais is only a footnote in the migration crisis sweeping Europe as a flow of refugees from conflict-torn Middle Eastern nations risk their lives on a deadly journey to reach the European Union.

SEE ALSO: France takes in migrants but abandons refugees

 

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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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