France announces plans for two new migrant shelters in Lille

The French government has announced plans to open two new shelters for Calais migrants in Lille as pressure to improve the situation mounts.

France announces plans for two new migrant shelters in Lille
Photo: AFP
France announced Monday it would open two shelters for migrants sleeping rough around the port of Calais, relenting to pressure to improve the lot of hundreds of people hiding from police.
The centres will be located in the towns of Troisvaux and Bailleul, situated about 80 kilometres (50 miles) inland from Calais, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said.
Each will have a capacity of 300, he told reporters, estimating the number of migrants currently in the northern port at 350-400.
His announcement came hours after France's highest administrative court ordered the state to provide running water and sanitation for the migrants, saying that its refusal so far to do so “exposed them to inhuman and degrading treatment.”

French court orders Calais to provide drinking water for migrants but not shelterAFP

The Council of State, which estimates the number of migrants at 400-700, was ruling on an appeal by the interior ministry and the city of Calais against an injunction issued by a court in Lille last month.   

In its decision Monday the Council of State upheld the order sought by a group of charities, saying that migrants were developing skin diseases such as scabies and festering wounds as they had no way of washing themselves or their clothes.
The situation was causing “serious psychological problems”, it added, calling the state's failure to address the situation “a serious and clearly illegal blow to a basic right”.
Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart, from the centre-right Republicans party, said she would ignore the order.
“In the absence of a national and European policy offering a global solution on controlling immigration, Calais will not implement the injunctions,” she declared, warning of the emergence of “yet another Jungle” — the sprawling informal camp from which over 6,000 migrants were evacuated last year.
Collomb however said the migrants would quickly be given improved access to water.
The minister had previously argued, like Bouchart, that the provision of services could have a pull effect on migrants who trek across Europe to Calais in the hope of stowing away on a truck crossing the Channel to England.
In June, he warned the city risked developing a migrant “abscess”.
'Individual excesses'
But in recent days the government has softened its tone.
President Emmanuel Macron last week promised to find temporary shelter for all those on the streets by the end of the year.
Collomb said the addition of two new shelters to some 450 already in operation around the country would help speed up the processing of asylum claims from those migrants who wished to stay in France.
“We do not want to repeat the bad experiences of the past,” he warned, alluding to the squalid Jungle.
Collomb also announced an internal police investigation into claims of excessive force being used by officers against the migrants in Calais.
In a report entitled “Like living in hell” Human Rights Watch last week accused the police of routinely using pepper spray on asylum seekers and migrants.
Collomb said the security forces did not use pepper spray but he did not rule out “excesses by a few individuals”.


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.