UK and France close to deal on Calais child refugees

The UK says it has almost reached a deal with France to take in unaccompanied child refugees from Calais but it is unclear how many of the 1,000 in the Jungle camp will be transferred.

UK and France close to deal on Calais child refugees
Photo: AFP

Britain’s Home Secretary Amber Rudd met with her counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve for lengthy talks on Monday about the refugee crisis in Calais.

The talks came after Cazeneuve said Britain had a ‘moral duty’ to let hundreds of migrant children join their relatives across the Channel.

And it appears London is ready to fulfil that duty.

In a statement to MPs in the British parliament, Amber Rudd said: “We are expecting to reach an agreement. When the camp clearances take place in the next few weeks we will be working very closely with the French.”

She said the UK would prioritise safeguarding children aged under 12.

The need to transfer the children out of Calais is even more urgent given that the French government plans to send in the bulldozers in the coming weeks.

The 10,000 migrants currently camped out in the squalid Jungle camp will be sent to reception centres in towns and villages around the country.

French authorities have agreed to draw up a list of almost 400 eligible refugees who have a legal right to be in the UK.

“Once we have that official list we will move quickly within days and remove very quickly those children,” said Rudd.

She said Britain would take as many child refugees as possible who had direct family links already in the UK.

“I emphasised to Mr Cazeneuve that we should transfer as many minors as possible from the camp eligible under the Dublin regulation before clearance commences, with the remainder coming over within the next few days of operation,” Rudd told MPs.



Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


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.