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

British Prime Minister Theresa May has agreed to stump up millions more in cash to help France boost security at the UK border in Calais. Reports say the sum could amount to €50 million and will be announced on Thursday.

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

France's Elysée Palace announced on Wednesday that a new treaty would be signed on Thursday aimed at providing a solution to the migrant crisis at Calais and how to best deal with the refugees hoping to head to Britain.

As part of that deal Britain will hand over more money to help boost security at the border.

Reports in the British press suggest the total will be €50 million (£44.5 million) which would bring the total amount of money paid by the UK to France since 2016 to around €170 million (£150 million).

“This is about investing in and enhancing the security of the UK border,” a government spokeswoman said. “Just as we invest in our borders around the rest of the UK it is only right that we constantly monitor whether there is more we can be doing at UK border controls in France and Belgium to ensure tey are as secure as possible.”

Most of the money will be spent on security, including more fences, more CCTV and better detection technology in Calais. But French authorities will also use the money to help relocate refugees from Calais to other parts of France.

Most of the money handed over by Britain in recent years has been spent on boosting security – a tactic aid groups working in Calais say simply won't solve the problem.

London paid out €2.7 million to build a 1km-long wall along the approach road to the Calais port – a move which was heavily criticised by aid groups.

“It's not going to change a thing. These people will still try and scale the wall and it will just result in more of them being injured,” Yolaine Bernard, vice president of the Salam aid organisation told The Local

“There's no easy solution to this issue, but it's a shame to spend all that money on something that won't work.”

The aid agency says measures like extra fencing and the flooding of lowlands around the port only add to the risk and lead to extra deaths among migrants.

Aid groups say the more money the UK spends on security at Calais, the more the migrant crisis will be pushed to other ports along the Channel coast.

Some of the money stumped up by the British may also be spent on improving security along the coast at the port of Dunkirk.

The new treaty, set to be announced at the Franco-British summit at a UK military base later on Thursday, will “complete the Le Touquet accord”, Macron's office said in reference to a 2003 deal that effectively put Britain's border in northern France.

The details are “still being finalised”, the French presidency said, but the treaty will include measures on how to manage unaccompanied minors.

As part of the new treaty Britain could set up a system to process some asylum claims in Calais, offering refugees a legal route across the Channel.

At stake during Thursday's talks is a 2003 agreement between Britain and France which effectively moved the UK border onto French territory, meaning the area around Calais has become a bottleneck where migrants heading for Britain wait.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb reiterated Tuesday that France would ask Britain to take in more refugees from northern France and increase their funding — not only for security measures, but also for the development of Calais.

“It's in their interests that things go well,” Collomb told the France 2 television channel on Tuesday ahead of a meeting between Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday 

Migrants hoping to stow away on trucks bound for Britain have long been drawn to France's northern coast, with the squalid “Jungle” camp near Calais once housing some 10,000 people before it was bulldozed by the government in late 2016.

Hundreds of migrants remain in the area, with police routinely breaking up makeshift camps of people hoping to head to Britain, a favoured destination for Afghans and east Africans.

French officials argue the Le Touquet deal has worsened Europe's migrant crisis by creating a huge backflow of migrants in the area, lured by a belief that it is easier to secure asylum and work permits in Britain.

A French human rights commission in 2015 said the accord had made France the “police branch” of Britain's immigration policies.

POLICE

French police cause misery for migrants in Calais

French police are inflicting misery on migrants in the northern port of Calais, routinely tearing down their tents and forcing them to wander the streets as part of a deterrence policy, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report published on Thursday.

French police cause misery for migrants in Calais
A migrant camp is evacuated by police forces in Calais in February 2019. Photo: Philippe HUGUEN / AFP.

The 75-page report documents methods used by authorities to prevent the emergence of another major migrant settlement in Calais, five years after the demolition of the sprawling “Jungle” camp which housed up to 10,000 people at its peak.

Calais has for years been a rallying point for migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa trying to sneak across the English Channel to Britain.

Faced with growing public anti-migrant sentiment, President Emmanuel Macron’s government has waged a campaign to prevent new camps emerging.

Police tactics include systematically tearing down migrants’ tents in the woods, on wasteland or under bridges, regularly confiscating their belongings and harassing NGOs trying to provide them with aid, according to New York-based HRW.

“The authorities carry out these abusive practices with the primary purposes of forcing people to move elsewhere, without resolving their
migration status or lack of housing, or of deterring new arrivals,” it said in the report entitled “Enforced Misery: The Degrading Treatment of Migrant Children and Adults in Northern France”.

‘Harass and abuse’

NGOs estimate the number of migrants currently living around Calais at between 1,500 and 2,000, including numerous families. Local authorities estimate that only 500 remain in the area.

Last week, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin ordered the eviction of a camp housing 400 migrants near a hospital in Calais, which was presented as a danger to the hospital’s patients and staff.

On that occasion the migrants were taken to temporary shelters but often they are left to wander the streets.

“When the police arrive, we have five minutes to get out of the tent before they destroy everything,” a Kurdish woman from Iraq told HRW.

The interior ministry did not respond to AFP’s request for comment on the report.

The government argues that the camps are havens for people smugglers, who command extortionate fees to help migrants cross to Britain, either in a small boat crossing the Channel in the dead of night or stowed away on a truck crossing by ferry or through the Channel Tunnel.

NGOs argue that the tactics do nothing more than make migrants already difficult lives even more miserable.

The report quoted the Calais-based Human Rights Observers group as saying that in some cases cleaning crews cut migrants’ tents while people are still inside, in order to force them out.

“If the aim is to discourage migrants from gathering in northern France, these policies are a manifest failure and result in serious harm,” Benedicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch, said.

French authorities “need a new approach to help people, not repeatedly harass and abuse them,” she added.

A total of 15,400 people attempted to cross the Channel in the first eight months of this year, a increase of 50 percent over the figure for the whole of 2020, according to French coast guard statistics.

“Exiles aren’t travelling to northern France because they’ve heard they can camp in the woods or stay under a bridge…They come because that’s where the border is,” Charlotte Kwantes, national coordinator of the Utopia 56 charity was quoted in the report as saying.

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