OPINION: Britain throwing even more money at security in Calais is not the answer

Spending €50 million on more fences, walls, police and CCTV cameras will not solve the migrant crisis at Calais, only Britain taking on its real responsibilities will, aid groups argue

OPINION: Britain throwing even more money at security in Calais is not the answer

The UK announced on Thursday that it will spend another €50 million, or a large part of that sum, on boosting security at the port of Calais, which for years, if not decades has been a jumping-off point for migrants and refugees attempting the often perilous journey across the Channel.

That brings the total amount of money the UK has spent on security at Calais in recent years to over €170 million.

London has built fences at the Eurotunnel port, paid for CCTV, extra police and detection technology to find out if anyone is hiding out in trucks. It has also paid €2.7 million for a much-criticized 4-metre high wall that stretches one kilometre along the approach road to Calais port, and helped pay for the dismantling of the infamous Jungle camp, once home to 10,000 people. 

And yet the migrant crisis in Calais rumbles on with around 1,000 refugees camping out in and around the town in squalid conditions trying to escape the attention of riot police who have been confiscating their belongings and cutting up their sleeping bags.

“Increasing security to tackle the migrant crisis does not only not work in France, it doesn't work anywhere in the world,” Franck Esnee, northern France's regional coordinator for charity Medecins du Monde told The Local on Thursday.

“More security doesn't stop people trying. You can put twice as much money into more police but you can't change the fact the UK is just 30km away across the Channel.

“We are convinced that spending more money on more security at the border will only mean more risk and more danger for the migrants,” said Esnee.

“Despite the risks and the dangers in places like Libya, people are still making those journeys. Building walls in Calais or along the Mexico border won't stop people coming.

“We denounce this attitude towards security and this idea of creating a fortress around Europe's borders.”

UK to pay France extra €50 million to boost security at Calais port

Back in 2015 London stumped up €10 million for a new control centre at the port, as well as extra French policing units, additional freight searches, and tighter security at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel through more fencing, cameras, floodlighting and infrared detection technology.
That year Eurotunnel, which runs the Chanel Tunnel, demanded compensation after it incurred a security bill of €13 million after scores of disruptions caused by migrants on the train tracks as they attempted to get through the tunnel. Eurotunnel will no doubt be quite happy with the UK boosting security.
But while the French government and Eurotunnel might be happy to take the money, aid organisations have long lamented Britain's focus on security and little else.
“Up until now the British government has just chosen to throw money at the problem and pay for new security fences, but it's not enough,” an aid worker in Calais told The Local previously.

Esnee says rather than spending the money on this side of the Channel, London should be simply use the money to take on its responsibilities in helping deal with the migrant crisis.

He argues the controversial 2003 Touquet agreement which allowed the UK to place its border on French soil has given successive British governments an excuse “to stay in the shadows” when it comes to the migrant crisis in France.

“The UK should be at the heart of the efforts to solve the crisis,” he said.

On Thursday Britain was reminded of its promise to grant asylum to refugee children in Calais, a vow it has failed to keep, according to aid groups.

One of the other knock-on effects of spending so much money on security at Calais is that it persuades those intent on getting to the UK to try alternative routes.

Back in 2016 The Local reported that other Channel ports along the coast such as Ouistreham near Caen and Dieppe were seeing more and more migrants attempting to make the crossing.

The much-publicized closing of the Jungle camp in Calais also resulted in migrants heading to other ports. Many made their way to Dunkirk.

“If you create a blockage in Calais, which there already is, and if there's no legal way to demand asylum in the UK, then there are two effects,” say Esnee.

“Firstly the refugees will seek the help of traffickers and secondly they will look to new ways to get across the Channel because they still want to get across to the UK.

“We have seen asylum seekers crossing the Alps in winter from Italy to France. Walls and police won't stop them.”

The migrant crisis has dominated the annual Franco-British summits in recent years and Medecins du Monde and other aid groups had hoped this one would have a different focus.

“We hope Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron will discuss how to invest this money on how migrants are treated and housed in France and on creating a legal route to the UK so people can be offered protection.

“We want the money spent on that rather than simply blocking them at the border.”



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.