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.

"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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