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IMMIGRATION

France clears 1,800 UK-bound migrants from Dunkirk camp

French police cleared 1,800 migrants from a makeshift camp near Dunkirk on Tuesday, hoping to deter people-traffickers seeking to smuggle them across the Channel to Britain.

France clears 1,800 UK-bound migrants from Dunkirk camp
Photos: AFP

Hundreds of police flooded the Grande-Synthe camp at dawn to expel the migrants, most of them Iraqi Kurds, who were loaded onto dozens of buses bound for shelters.

While the infamous “Jungle” camp in nearby Calais was razed in 2016, migrants continue to head to the coast hoping to stow away on trucks travelling to Britain.

Refugees and others seeking a better life have long used the wooded, lakeside area near Dunkirk as a jumping-off point for attempted crossings, and this was the sixth such operation in five months.

The migrants, including many families, “will be cared for and given shelter in emergency accommodation throughout the Hauts-de-Seine region and other regions nearby,” local authorities said in a statement.

The operation was intended “to stop human trafficking in these camps where smuggling rings are active,” they added.

Some migrants were aware of the impending swoop and left the camp ahead of the operation — “but tomorrow, many will be back,” predicted Claude Lenoir of Salam, an aid group working with migrants.

“They need to be given temporary housing, but we know full well that some migrants will return, as is always the case,” said Akim Toualbia, deputy head of Drop, another migrants' aid group.

The migrants were living in the camp with no access to showers or toilets as the winter chill begins to set in, he added.

Newly appointed Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, who was due to visit later Tuesday, has vowed to take a tough stance on illegal immigration.

France received a record 100,000 asylum requests in 2017, up 17 percent from the year before.

Police had clashed overnight with migrants who set up roadblocks near the port of Calais, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) west, though officials said there were no casualties.

Migrants have repeatedly set up roadblocks at night in an attempt to slow trucks heading onto ferries bound for Britain, hoping to make it easier to slip aboard.

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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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