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IMMIGRATION

French court rules government must supply water to migrants

France's highest administrative court on Monday rejected the government's appeal against an order to provide water and sanitation facilities for hundreds of migrants sleeping rough in the northern port of Calais.

French court rules government must supply water to migrants
Photo: AFP
In a written decision seen by AFP, the Council of State said the state's failure to provide for the migrants' basic needs “exposed them to inhuman and degrading treatment, dealing a serious and clearly illegal blow to a basic right.”
   
The council noted that migrants, “who find themselves in a state of destitution and exhaustion, have no access to running water, showers or toilets and cannot therefore wash themselves or their clothes.”
   
The situation had caused some to develop skin diseases such as scabies and impetigo or infected wounds, “as well as serious psychological troubles,” the council found.
   
The court upheld a June 26 order by a court in the northern city of Lille for the state to supply the migrants with running water, toilets and showers.
   
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The Lille court also demanded that those migrants who decide to seek asylum in France be offered a place in a reception centre wherever there was space available.
   
Several hundred migrants are camped out in and around Calais — the main launchpad for attempts to smuggle  across the Channel to Britain by truck.
   
The interior ministry and the city of Calais had appealed against the Lille court's ruling in June, saying the provision of services would lead to the proliferation of new “Jungles”, as the sprawling makeshift camp demolished last year in Calais was known.
   
The case was taken by a group of migrants and NGOs, who complained that the state was violating the migrants' basic rights.
   
France's new centrist government has taken a tough line on Calais, with Interior Minister Gerard Collomb saying he does not want the city to become an “abscess”.
   
Last week, President Emmanuel Macron softened his tone somewhat, saying he aimed to find shelter for all those living on the street by the end of the year.

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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