Refugees ‘barred’ from French swimming pool

France’s leading legal rights body has been called in to investigate after it emerged that a swimming pool in Calais, where 4,500 refugees are camped out, had effectively banned them from entering.

Refugees 'barred' from French swimming pool
Photo: AFP

The uproar started when the Icéo pool in the northern French town introduced a measure which effectively prevented refugees from entering the pool.

Anyone who wants to visit the pool, located around 20 minutes walk from the squalid Jungle camp, must now show an identity card and proof of address, which the vast majority of refugees do not have.

Rights groups have reacted angrily to the measure that was imposed in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.

Changing the conditions of access is “a discriminatory offence that only targets a population already highly stigmatized,” said Claire Rodier from immigrant support group Gisti.

Jean-Pierre Alaux, from Gisti told The Local that the swimming pool is not the only place in Calais where migrants and refugees have been banned.

“Over the last 15 years we have seen bars and shops block foreigners from entering and library did the same,” he said.

“There have been many scandalous incidents here and we had to try to do something,” he said.

In a letter sent to the French prosecutor and to France’s top independent rights body the Defenseur des droits 19 rights groups and aid associations, including Amnesty International, denounced “the racial discrimination” behind the move.

They demanded authorities investigate the legality of the measure that is “manifestly discriminatory and clearly contrary to law”.

The outspoken mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart has defended the move on the grounds of the need to guarantee security.

She says the measure was taken under the ongoing state of emergency in France to target “people whose identity we don’t know”.

Security has been increased at public buildings all around France in the aftermath of the terror attacks. Security guards have been brought in to carry out bag searches and scans of members of the public.

While demanding to see and ID card is common in France, where the public are obliged to carry one at all times, asking for proof of address is extremely rare.

Bosses of the municipal pool were refusing to comment on Thursday.


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.