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IMMIGRATION

Protesters wall off access to French migrant shelter

Locals in southwestern France have built a wall around the entrance to a disused hotel in protest against plans to turn it into a migrant centre.

Protesters wall off access to French migrant shelter
People wait to board a bus after being evacuated from a migrant camp in France. Photo: AFP
Protesters in a town in southwest France have built a nearly-two-metre-high wall around the entrance to a disused hotel to try to prevent it being turned into a migrant shelter.
 
Working under cover of darkness, a few dozen residents of Semeac in the Pyrenees mountains erected a wall 18 metres (60 feet) long and 1.8 metres high barring access to the Formule 1 hotel, a spokesman for the group confirmed.
   
“We not against taking in migrants,” Laurent Teixeira told AFP. “But you have to take account of the citizens.”
 
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Migrants during the evacuation of a makeshift camp in France. Photo: AFP   
 
Teixeira accused the authorities of failing to consult residents about the project to turn the former budget hotel into a shelter for up to 85 migrants.
   
“Nothing is planned for the migrants' daily life,” he said, arguing that schools and other public services in the town of 5,000 people would be unable to cope with the newcomers.
   
Protester Hugo Lacoue, a tobacconist, said he was opposed to migrants being hosted in a suburban neighbourhood.
   
The hotel in Semeac is one of 62 budget hostelries bought by the state in order to house some of the asylum-seekers currently sleeping rough on the streets of Paris or the northern port of Calais.
   
With the pace of migrant arrivals expected to accelerate this summer, the government has come under pressure to create more shelters.
   
More than 2,800 people were evacuated earlier this month from a makeshift camp that sprung up around a packed migrant centre in northern Paris, but a new camp is already forming in the area.
   
Last year, several French towns saw protests over the establishment of migrant shelters but in most places the protests died down after the migrants moved in.

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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