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IMMIGRATION

French mayor tells UK’s Boris Johnson to ‘calm down’ over migrant crossings

The mayor of the French port city of Calais on Thursday told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to "calm down" and change strategy in dealing with migrants crossing from France.

French mayor tells UK's Boris Johnson to 'calm down' over migrant crossings
Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart. Photo: AFP

“I consider Boris Johnson's pronouncements to be a provocation,” said Natacha Bouchart, mayor of the town which is a main embarcation point for the small, overcrowded migrant boats seeking to cross the English Channel this summer.

“I say clearly, that it's a declaration of maritime war since it is out of the question for naval ships to enter (French) territorial waters,” she told AFPTV.

Britain's right-wing Conservative Party government has looked to increase pressure on France to prevent migrants coming into UK waters.

Interior Minister Priti Patel and French counterpart Gerald Darmanin signed an agreement last month creating a new joint police intelligence unit to combat migrant traffickers, but it is unclear whether this has had any impact.

Britain's interior ministry has also made a formal request for the Royal Navy to help, but campaigners warn any military intervention to stop boats could be dangerous and may face legal challenges.

The Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported that officials were planning for naval and border force vessels to pick up the migrants and take them directly back to northern France.

French officials insist France is doing all it can, with additional security forces deployed, to prevent the crossings. But they acknowledge the numbers have increased sharply this year.

Since January 1st, authorities in northern France have recorded around 350 attempts or crossings involving over 4,000 migrants, compared with 203 attempts and 2,294 migrants for the whole of 2019.

The Calais mayor on Thursday said the problem was of Britain's own making.    

“If the migrants want to cross (the channel), it is because the British themselves put out the call. They have done so by failing to touch their legislation for 20 years,” she said.

“Therefore I appeal to Boris Johnson, saying you urgently need to calm down, and urgently need to change your methods of welcoming and dealing with migrants.”

Bouchart also had a message for Darmanin: “Do not give in, because the British don't know how to negotiate. It's only by standing firm that you achieve something.”

Johnson on Monday said illegal migrant crossings of the Channel, which have hit record numbers, were “very bad and stupid and dangerous”.

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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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