SHARE
COPY LINK

IMMIGRATION

Macron heads to Calais as pressure grows on Britain to ease migrant burden

French President Emmanuel Macron will defend his controversial immigration policy on Tuesday in the northern port of Calais, long a magnet for refugees and migrants trying to reach Britain.

Macron heads to Calais as pressure grows on Britain to ease migrant burden
Photo: AFP

France's centrist president, who campaigned for open borders in last year's election, has since drawn criticism for his government's uncompromising attitude towards migrants sleeping rough on the streets of Calais and Paris.

France received a record 100,000 asylum claims last year, making it one of Europe's top destinations.

Macron has promised to speed up waiting times for asylum applications while also stepping up expulsions of those who remain in France after being turned down for refugee status — an approach he touts as mixing “efficiency” and “humanity”.

NGOs, trade unions and left wing parties take a different view, often accusing him of wielding an iron fist in a velvet glove.

The police in Calais routinely break up the camps of migrants who descend on the region to try and stow away on trucks crossing the Channel to Britain, a favourite destination for Afghans and east Africans.

Hundreds of migrants are still massed in the area, over a year after the former Socialist government bulldozed the Jungle, a squalid makeshift camp in Calais, and moved its more than 7,000 occupants to shelters nationwide.

In December, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb further raised the hackles of migrant support groups by ordering ID checks in emergency shelters, sparking fears of a witch hunt against failed asylum seekers.

On Thursday, Macron will travel to southern England for a French-British summit where he will demand that Britain, which in 2003 effectively pushed back its border to France, do more to help ease the migrant burden.

READ ALSO:





Demands for Britain to step up

Some in France see the situation in Calais as one of Britain's making, given that the most of the migrants who descend on the area are desperate to reach England.

In an interview with Le Parisien published Sunday, Collomb said he would push for changes to the 2003 Le Touquet accords allowing British border controls on French territory.

Collomb said France would specifically demand “concrete measures” from Prime Minister Theresa May's government on taking in more unaccompanied minors seeking to join relatives or friends across the water, and on contributing more to the costs of policing the border.

On Tuesday, Macron will meet migrants in Calais and NGOs working with them, as well as with local officials, residents and security force members calling for tougher laws to prevent the emergence of another Jungle.

Natacha Bouchart, the right wing mayor of Calais, told BFM television on Monday that the local population was “tired” of the situation and expected a lot from the president's visit.

But the trip has not been welcomed by all, with two NGOs on the frontlines of the crisis in Calais refusing an invitation to meet him.

Francois Guennoc of the Auberge des Migrants charity said he did not want to act “merely as an alibi for a strategy that is already well established”.

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.

SHOW COMMENTS