Sarkozy wants ‘closed centre’ for migrants… in the UK

Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to travel to London “the day after” he wins next year’s president election to tear up the border deal between France and UK and force London to open a "closed centre" for migrants on the British side of the Channel.

Sarkozy wants 'closed centre' for migrants... in the UK
Photo: AFP

As protests were held in Calais on Monday calling for the Jungle migrant camp to be pulled down immediately,  Sarkozy told La Voix du Nord newspaper he would push for a “closed centre for migrants” to be opened in the UK.

“Since most of these foreigners come to Calais to enter the UK, I want our British friends to now take charge of the processing of applications from those who want asylum, in a detention center, in Britain, and also take charge of the return of those who will be rejected,” Sarkozy said.

He believes British and French police and customs teams could conduct preliminary checks of migrants in France for their asylum application to be processed more quickly.

These teams would decide whether any application should be dealt with by the British and in these cases the migrants and refugees would be transported to the closed centre in the UK to have their application processed.

Sarkozy, a candidate to become the presidential nominee for the right wing Les Republicains party, already stirred up a hornet’s nest in the UK last week, when he vowed to tear up the Touquet accords that allow the UK to have its border in France.

And he reiterated his determination on Monday saying if he is elected president in May he would travel to London the next day to fight for a new agreement.

Sarkozy signed the Touquet agreements himself in 2003 when he was interior minister. The UK would be resistant to any change and the current French government has moved to ease fears by insisting the deal will remain.

But with Sarkozy’s rival for the presidential nominee Alain Jupée also in favour of scrapping the Touquet agreement, Britain may be forced into a renegotiation if, as expected, a right wing candidate wins the election in May.  

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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.