Could the Calais ‘Jungle’ migrant camp cross the Channel?
The prospect of a mass influx of asylum-seekers from northern France is deeply alarming for many in the UK.
But a shift in the status quo looks increasingly likely, as a growing number of presidential hopefuls in next year’s French election demand a radical overhaul of existing rules.
The latest call for change has come from conservative former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is attempting a political comeback.
He said on Saturday that Britain should open an asylum centre on its own territory to deal with migrants now camped in squalid conditions at Calais in the north of France.
Nicolas Sarkozy demands Calais Jungle refugee camp is moved to UK https://t.co/CqyItXjtrn— The Independent (@Independent) 29 août 2016
Thousands of migrants fleeing war or poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia have massed around the port, hoping to make their way to Britain to begin a new life.
In the past two years, the migrant population has swelled, with some French media reports putting the current figure at around 10,000.
Under current arrangements governed by the Le Touquet accord, signed in 2003, British officials can check passports in France and vice versa.
If the treaty was scrapped, however, border checks would return to the UK, meaning the French could let migrants
travel to British soil to be processed.
“I’m demanding the opening of a centre in Britain to deal with asylum seekers in Britain so that Britain can do the work that concerns them,” Sarkozy told a political rally in Le Touquet in northern France.
He said Britain should manage the asylum process, accepting those it wants on British territory and organising charters to remove those who are rejected.
“The jungle should not be in Calais or anywhere else, because this is a republic and those with no rights to be here should return to their country,” Sarkozy said.
Earlier this year, French authorities dismantled the southern half of the Calais migrant camp. In July, Calais’ conservative mayor Natacha Bouchart said authorities would soon announce that the remaining half would be dismantled.
Sarkozy’s conservative rival Alain Juppé, who opened his presidential bid on Saturday and is considered the frontrunner in their party’s presidential primaries, has called for the Le Touquet accord to be renegotiated.
The conservative president of the region, Xavier Bertrand, is also demanding substantial change.
He has called for ‘hotspots’ to be set up in France in which migrants can directly apply for asylum in Britain.
Calais migrants should be able to claim UK asylum while in France https://t.co/2LdPBbUCT0— The Independent (@Independent) 29 août 2016
That suggestion however has been slammed by Sir Peter Ricketts, the former British Ambassador to Paris. He told BBC Radio 4 that Bertrand’s plan, bypassing the EU’s Dublin regulation, would simply act as a ‘huge magnet, pulling thousands and thousands more migrants into Calais to chance their arm’.
Further complicating the situation, Britain’s decision to leave the EU is unlikely to smooth negotiations with France – whatever the outcome of the 2017 presidential election.
Ahead of the UK’s June referendum, then Prime Minister David Cameron warned that the Le Touquet accord could be in jeopardy if the Brexit vote won.
He said there were “a lot of opposition politicians” in France who would like to rip up that agreement, which would open the gates to thousands of refugees now living in Calais.
“I don’t want to give people an excuse to do that,” Cameron said in February, in what pro-leave campaigners denounced as part of a scaremongering campaign.