French migrant policy under scrutiny as Emmanuel Macron visits Calais

French migrant policy under scrutiny as Emmanuel Macron visits Calais
By Alasdair Sandford
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The French president has visited the northern port – long a magnet for UK-bound migrants – to defend his government’s much-criticised immigration and asylum policy.


Emmanuel Macron has been visiting Calais on Tuesday, accompanied by senior ministers, on a high-profile mission to defend and explain his government’s controversial immigration policy. It comes as new figures show sharp increases both in the number of foreigners being allowed to stay in France – and in those being deported.

It’s the French president’s first visit since taking office to the northern port, long a symbol of Europe’s struggle to deal with people from other parts of the world fleeing conflict or seeking a better life. The huge, infamous “Jungle” camp was closed in 2016, and only a few hundred migrants are now present in the area, compared to an estimated 7-8,000 who once lived there.

Macron – who visited one of three new reception centres for migrants seeking entry to the UK – said he would not allow another makeshift camp to mushroom in Calais. “There will be no return of the ‘Jungle’,” he said in a speech in the town.

The mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, has said the local population is tired of a situation that remains fragile, with insecurity a daily problem.

New laws

On Tuesday, France’s interior minister Gérard Collomb strongly contested accusations from welfare groups – at least two are boycotting Macron’s visit – of police violence against migrants and refugees. Last summer, Human Rights Watch accused police in Calais of maltreating asylum seekers and migrants.

Speaking to the security forces in Calais, President Macron called on police to be “exemplary” in their behaviour. “No breach of ethics will be tolerated,” he said, adding that sanctions would be imposed on offenders.

Migrant support groups have also been angered by orders to carry out identity checks in emergency shelters elsewhere in France.

He also called for “responsibility” on the part of welfare groups, and said the French state would take charge of the distribution of meals to migrants in Calais, a service currently provided by charities.

Rising numbers

New French legislation being drawn up is designed to control the flow of migrants, improve and speed up the system dealing with asylum seekers, help the integration of refugees but also step up expulsions of illegal migrants and those who fail to obtain refugee status.

The number of asylum seekers topped 100,000 last year in France for the first time. Figures released by the interior ministry on Tuesday showed the highest number came from Albania, followed by Afghanistan, Syria, Haiti and Sudan. The number of asylum seekers receiving final approval to stay in France was down slightly, to 35.8 percent.

The number of resident permits granted was up by 13.7 percent, while expulsions of illegal immigrants also rose, by 14.6 percent to nearly 15,000. Over a third more people – 85,000 – were turned away at France’s borders in 2017 compared to the previous year.

'More British help'

Two days before Macron is due to visit the UK for a Franco-British summit, the French president said his government would demand “specific answers from our British friends”. It’s thought he will call on the UK to accept more unaccompanied underage migrants from the Calais area.

Earlier on Tuesday, the interior minister also expanded on France’s call for Britain to do more to improve the migrant crisis in and around port.

Gérard Collomb told French TV on Tuesday that he wanted the UK to pay more towards planned infrastructure improvements, citing the importance of the Calais port to British trade. France has already said it wants changes to the 2003 Le Touquet agreement that moved UK border controls to the French side.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday that the accord had served both sides well and that Britain had provided extra help before, including additional security measures.

The French demands brought more hostile responses on English-language social media on Tuesday.

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