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IMMIGRATION

Hollande vows to ‘completely dismantle’ Calais Jungle

President Francois Hollande, under pressure from the right wing, on Saturday stepped up his pledge to combat illegal migration, vowing to dismantle a squalid settlement near Calais and prevent similar camps from becoming established in France.

Hollande vows to 'completely dismantle' Calais Jungle
French President Francois Hollande visiting a refugee centre in Tours. Photo: Guillaume Souvant/AFP
“There will be no camps in France,” said Hollande, two days ahead of a maiden visit to the notorious “Jungle” settlement near Calais, where between 7,000 and 10,000 desperate migrants live.
   
The Socialist leader spelt out promises to “completely dismantle” the Jungle and set up “reception and orientation centres around the country” to accommodate asylum-seekers.
   
Hollande's government has vowed to scrap the Jungle “before winter” and a flurry of preparations underway there suggest the operation may begin shortly. Migration has been a low-key issue under Hollande's four-year-old presidency.
   
But he has been forced to take a visible stance on the issue, under pressure from his conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy — who is hoping to make a comeback as president — and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
   
Each are promoting platforms of security, patriotism and national interest in early campaigning for next year's elections.
   
“We will provide a humane, dignified welcome to people who will file for the right of asylum,” Hollande said. Those whose request has been rejected “will be escorted out of the country. Those are the rules and they are fully aware of them.”
   
He noted that France would accept 80,000 asylum-seekers this year, a fraction of that accepted by Germany.
   
Separately, the top administrative office, or prefecture, for the Pas-de-Calais region said a Sudanese migrant aged about 30 died late Saturday when he was hit by a freight train near the port of Calais.
   
He was the 13th migrant to die in the Calais area since the start of the year, according to an AFP poll. Most of the deaths have been people who have tried to board trucks heading to Britain via the Channel Tunnel or ferry.
   
Meanwhile, Sarkozy returned Saturday to remarks on national identity that sparked a fierce row earlier this week.
 
On Tuesday, Sarkozy said that once immigrants are granted citizenship “they should live like the French.”
   
“Once you become French, your ancestors are the Gauls. 'I love France, I learned the history of France, I see myself as French',” is what you must say,” he said.
   
The remarks sparked a storm, prompting historians to note that France has been a land of immigration for centuries and the line “our ancestors the Gauls” was an opening to history textbooks that today is widely derided.
   
On Saturday, Sarkozy extended his “Gauls” reference and provided what he contended was a patriotic benchmark for Muslim immigrants to France.
   
“Our ancestors were the Gauls, they were also the kings of France, the Enlightenment, Napoleon, the great Republicans,” he told a rally in the southwestern town of Perpignan.
   
“Our ancestors were (also) the colonial troops who died at the Chemin des Dames in World War I, the Muslim riflemen who died at Monte Cassino,” he said referring to a battle against German troops in Italy in 1944.
   
Sarkozy paid special tribute to the Harkis — Muslim auxiliaries who fought alongside French troops in Algeria's bloody 1954-1962 war of independence.
   
“In our national story… a special place is reserved for French Muslims who died for our freedom and flag,” he 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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