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Macron vows not to allow Calais migrant camp repeat

January 16, 2018

French President Emmanuel Macron says France wants more money from the UK and to negotiate a better police cooperation to handle the migrants in Calais. He made the comments during a visit to the French port town.

Calais Räumung
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/T. Camus

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday vowed that France would not allow another migrant camp like the infamous "Jungle" to develop in Calais, during a visit to the French town and ferry port at the center of France's immigration crisis.

"In no case will we allow another 'Jungle' here," he said in a speech in the northern city, as his government puts pressure on Britain to contribute more to dealing with migrants seeking to cross the Channel.

Read more: Calais migrants to be dispersed across France

Macron vows no return of Calais migrant camp

Macron said he wanted to negotiate with Britain a better police cooperation to handle the migrants in Calais and more money from the UK to help develop the city. He also wants Britain to take in more unaccompanied minors.

An agreement in 2003, known as the Touquet Accords, moved the British border to Calais and has left France with the problem of dealing with migrants refused entry into Britain.

Some in France see the situation in Calais as one of Britain's making, given that the most of the migrants who descend on the area are desperate to reach England.

France doing 'everything' to stop illegal migration to UK

The northern city is the closest point between France and Britain, with two cross-Channel transport systems: the Eurotunnel and ferries.

Macron insisted France was doing "everything" to prevent migrants from illegally entering Britain, saying "Calais is not a back door to England."

Read more: Is Emmanuel Macron Europe's new Angela Merkel?

Macron also said he would get tough on police if they use excessive force against migrants, but defended the security forces against allegations of brutality levelled by certain charities, dismissing some as lies.

Macron met with migrants living in Calais and the NGOs working with them, as well as local officials, residents and security force members calling for tougher laws to prevent the emergence of another "Jungle."

France: Survival in the legal grey zone

The former Socialist government bulldozed the "Jungle," — a makeshift camp in Calais — more than a year ago and moved its more than 7,000 occupants to shelters nationwide, but hundreds of migrants continue to gather in the area in hopes of making it to Britain.

The meeting in Calais comes ahead of a French-British summit on Thursday, which will see Macron meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May, where he will ask that Britain change the 2003 Tourquet Accords and do more to help ease the migrant burden caused partly by the agreement.

Read more: Refugees in France balk at pressure to move off streets

The police in Calais routinely break up the camps of migrants who descend on the region to try and stow away on trucks crossing the Channel to Britain, a favorite destination for Afghans and east Africans.

100,000 asylum claims

France received a record 100,000 asylum claims in 2017, making it one of Europe's most sought-after destinations.

Read more: Southern EU countries pledge to improve common migration policy

During the 2017 election, Macron campaigned for open borders and promised to speed up the waiting times for asylum applications, but he also said he would clamp down on expulsions of people who remained in France after being turned down for refugee status.

Read more: Britain to blame for Calais, says German group

NGOs, trade unions and left-wing parties take a different view, often accusing him of wielding an iron fist in a velvet glove.

In December, the Interior Minister Gerard Collomb's ordering of ID checks in emergency shelters sparked fears of a witch hunt against failed asylum seekers, and further criticism from migrant support groups.

France to demand 'concrete measures' from UK

The president's trip is a foretaste of a tough new immigration and asylum bill to be presented to the French Cabinet in February.

Read more: Calais refugees adapt to life in the UK

In an interview with French Le Parisien newspaper published Sunday, Collomb said he would push for changes to the 2003 Le Touquet accords allowing British border controls on French territory.

Collomb said France would specifically demand "concrete measures" from Prime Minister Theresa May's government on taking in more unaccompanied minors seeking to join relatives or friends across the water, and on contributing more to the costs of policing the border.

Read more: Calais mayor outlaws food handouts for migrants

Natacha Bouchart, the right-wing mayor of Calais, told BFM television on Monday that the local population was "tired" of the situation and expected a lot from the president's visit.

With 400 to 700 migrants there today, the situation is in many ways worse, said Francois Guennoc of Auberge des Migrants, a leading migrant aid group.

"It's catastrophic," he said, both materially and mentally because migrants have no right to pitch tents, to ensure no new camps spring up.

law/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)