French presidential hopefuls: UK must manage asylum seekers on its own soil
Britain must handle asylum seekers on its own territory rather than leave that to France, conservative candidates for France's presidential election said in a TV debate, highlighting that Franco-British tensions on the issue will not go away next year.
Opinion polls show whoever wins a two-round primaries vote later this month to become the conservative candidate in the presidential election has strong chances of becoming France's next leader on 7 May.
Under a deal on cross-Channel border controls called the Touquet accords, British officials check passports in France and vice versa, so asylum seekers wishing to reach Britain are held up in France and handled by authorities there.
The border question has taken centre-stage in the election campaign as France last week evacuated thousands of migrants from the "Jungle" camp in Calais, where more than 6,000 people were living, most in the hope of making it across to Britain.
The end of the line – the refugees trying to reach the UK from Calais
Calais has become a magnet for refugees trying to reach the UK. The reason for this is that the entrance to the Channel Tunnel (Eurotunnel) is situated there. Because migrants cannot simply board one of the many ferries crossing the channel, crossing illegally via the tunnel seems like a viable alternative. In recent weeks, the situation has escalated and become both dangerous and very difficult to manage
The migrants in Calais live in squalid tents and risk their lives to reach the UK. The only problem is that they are not welcome there either. Following weeks of increasing tension in Calais, the French and British governments have announced that they intend to further increase security.
According to the UN Commission for Refugees, most of the refugees in Calais come from Eritrea, Pakistan, Syria and Iran. After fleeing their homeland, they hope – often in vain – to be able to start a better life in Europe. Pictured here: refugees near a security fence in Calais
To reach the UK from Calais, they need to cross the English Channel. Many try to cross through the Channel Tunnel by jumping from the tracks onto a freight train. Recently, one refugee even tried to walk to the UK through the tunnel. He was intercepted close to the exit on the English side. Over the past two months, up to ten people have died in various bids to escape.
Many migrants attempt to slip into the back of a lorry at the motorway exits to the Channel Tunnel. In recent weeks, desperate refugees have tried to seize the opportunities presented by trucks stuck in tailbacks on the motorways on the French side. Others have clambered onto the roofs of trucks and held on for dear life all the way to England. Pictured here: a group of refugees tries to force open the door of a truck
Refugees try to reach England around the clock. Pictured here: a refugee climbing over a Eurotunnel security fence in Calais under cover of night. Either the refugees try to make it to England on their own or they wait in groups to be guided by a people smuggler at night. These people smugglers generally bring the group to the Eurotunnel security fence and cut holes in it to let them through
The few refugees that manage to make their way over or through the fence then have to walk to the entrance of the Channel Tunnel, which is around eight kilometres away.
Until now, hundreds of refugees have attempted to gain access to the Channel Tunnel. On Tuesday, 4 August 2015 alone, the police counted around 500 refugees in the security zone inside the fence surrounding the tunnel entrance near Calais. Some 400 attempts to enter the area of the Channel Tunnel were stopped.
Refugees attempting to flee to the UK rarely succeed at the first attempt. Refugees are usually caught by police – both day and night – at the latest within a few hundred metres of the entrance to the tunnel.
In addition to 300 French police officers, Eurotunnel, which manages the Channel Tunnel, has employed 200 security guards to stop refugees from entering the tunnel. French politicians have increasingly been calling for more action from the UK because most of the refugees stranded in Calais want to reach Britain. The politicians claim that France has effectively taken over border security for the UK. Pictured here: French police officers chase migrants away from a petrol station
The French and British governments have increasingly strengthened border controls over the years. Since the construction of the tunnel, they have signed a number of agreements, including the Sangatte Protocol and the Touquet Treaty. They also signed a joint declaration in September 2014 with the aim of further enhancing border security by constructing fences and border cordons at French ports, increasing police patrols in Calais, and up to €15 million in financial support from the UK.
In light of the current refugee crisis, Bernard Cazeneuve, the French Minister of the Interior, and Theresa May, the British Home Secretary (pictured above), have both appealed to other EU countries. "Many of those in Calais who are attempting to cross the English Channel have already passed through Italy, Greece and other countries." They are calling for more support from the European Union, saying that "our streets are not paved with gold."
There have been no real relief efforts in the refugee camp in the north of Calais, dubbed the "Jungle." Between 3,000 and 5,000 refugees have set up provisional huts and shacks in the camp, which is located near the border crossing. Pictured here: the refugee camp in Calais
The huge refugee camp in Calais highlights the massive differences in legislation on immigration across the EU. Technically, the refugees are supposed to apply for asylum in the first EU country in which they set foot. Yet the present system has long since failed to work and it has proved difficult for the EU to legislate new rules. Pictured here: a shop for refugees in Calais
Solidarity with the Calais refugees: French aid organisations have criticised the EU's immigration policy for years and demand that the French government remove the "Wall of Shame," which was erected to keep refugees from reaching the port of Calais. Their banners recall the plight of refugees from the First World War who escaped to Britain.
Since 1999, Calais has no longer been a safe port for refugees and has instead turned into a dead-end. It remains unclear how many refugees have successfully made their way across the English Channel. Those who have been caught do not usually provide correct information on their identity so as not to be sent back to their homeland. French authorities estimate that 70 per cent of refugees intercepted in the Calais region leave the region within four months. Where they go is not clear.
"On 7 May, we must go to Britain and negotiate with (British Prime Minister) Theresa May the opening up of a hotspot, a centre, so that the British decide themselves who they want to take in," former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who negotiated the current arrangement, said during Thursday's debate.
"We must denounce the Touquet agreements," former prime minister Alain Juppe said.
Opinion polls show Juppe is the frontrunner for the Nov. 20 first round of the primaries, with Sarkozy second. Both are seen qualifying for the Nov. 27 run-off and surveys forecast Juppe will win both that and the presidential vote.
All the other candidates for the Les Republicains conservative party primaries who were questioned during the TV debate also said the Touquet agreements must be annulled and asylum requests be managed by Britain on British soil.
"Britain's border should not be in France," said Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a former minister and the only woman among the seven candidates.
British officials have said they believe the Touquet agreement works and should not be changed.
The government of Socialist President Francois Hollande has said it will not seek the re-negotiation of the deal but its officials have repeatedly said Britain must take in more of the minors who were in the Calais camp, with tensions simmering for days over the issue. (Reuters)
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