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IMMIGRATION

Migrants in France ‘suffering unprecedented abuses’

Undocumented migrants living in makeshift camps in northern France have been subjected to an "unprecedented" violation of their basic rights over the past three years, the country's human rights ombudsman said in a report Wednesday.

Migrants in France 'suffering unprecedented abuses'
Photo: AFP

Jacques Toubon said that migrants camped out along France's northern coast and in Paris were “in a state of extreme destitution, deprived of all shelter and preoccupied with trying to fulfil their basic needs: to eat, to drink and to wash”.

In 2015 he had already sounded the alarm over the plight of migrants in the squalid Jungle shantytown at the port city of Calais, which at its peak was home to around 10,000 people hoping to stow away on trucks crossing the Channel to Britain.

The camp was razed in October 2016 and the migrants taken to shelters around the country.

Since then “the situation has in fact significantly worsened”, Toubon said in his report on camps in Calais, Grande-Synthe and Ouistreham — all ports on the Channel coast — as well as in Paris.

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Migrants make parts of France 'unlivable'... says new president of BrazilMigrants and undocumented workers take part in a demonstration to mark International Migrants Day in Paris on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

He accused the authorities of “trying to make (migrants) invisible” by regularly tearing down their camps without providing them with viable alternatives.

President Emmanuel Macron has taken a dual approach to migration, speeding the asylum claims of people deemed to be bona fide refugees while vowing  to speed up the deportation of so-called economic migrants.

Toubon, a former justice minister under centre-right president Jacques Chirac, accused the authorities of adopting a policy founded essentially on “'policing foreigners', reflecting a form of criminalisation of migration”.
 
He was particularly critical of the methods used by police to prevent the emergence of new settlements, including the use of tear gas during clearance operations.
 
The situation was leading to an “unprecedented deterioration” in the migrants' health, including their mental health, he said, expressing particular concern for unaccompanied minors.
 
Last week, four leading migrant charities in Calais issued a report documenting allegations of police violence made by scores of migrants, including the alleged use of tear gas on 153 occasions between November 2017 and November 2018.
 
The prefect in charge of public security in the region, Fabien Sudry, accused the charities of drawing on hearsay.
 
Around 500 migrants are estimated to be living in the Calais area, with hundreds more living in Paris.

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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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