Monday

25th May 2020

EU offers aid to France for migrants, shows little sympathy for UK

  • Eurotunnel said there have been 37,000 attempts by migrants since January to reach the UK (Photo: Jey OH photographie)

The EU has said it can provide aid to France as it struggles to deal with the growing number of migrants around the northern port city of Calais but has shown little sympathy for UK complaints about the situation noting that it expects more solidarity from London.

"The commission is aware that the situation as regards migrants in Calais is deteriorating. This is another stark example of the need for a greater level of solidarity and responsibility in the way we deal with migratory pressures in Europe," a commission spokesperson said Monday.

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"We can provide technical assistance through the EU agencies and emergency funding" to France, she added.

However, in a pointed aside to London, she stressed that the commission expects all member states to take part in a scheme it proposed earlier this year to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers that have arrived in Greece and Italy via the Mediterranean.

At a meeting in July, EU states as a whole fell short of the target with the UK - along with Austria and Hungary - refusing to take part in the distribution system.

Britain has an opt-out on EU migration policy, however Ireland, which has the same set-up, agreed to take part in the relocation scheme.

"Commissioner Avramopoulos has repeatedly stressed the commission expects all member states to take part in the relocation mechanism that we have proposed and to put solidarity into practice," said the spokesperson referring to the EU's top migration official.

"[Member states] all have to show solidarity and take their share of responsibility."

Her remarks come as Calais has become another flashpoint for EU migration policy. Migrants, often having travelled for months from countries such as Somalia and Eritrea, have set up a camp near the port in the hope of making it over to the UK.

On Sunday night (2 August), there were 1,700 attempts to get into the tunnel linking France and England. Eurotunnel, the tunnel operator, last week said it had blocked over 37,000 such attempts since January.

The sense of crisis has been heightened by the language surrounding the debate.

British PM David Cameron referred to a "swarm" of migrants trying to get to the UK while British tabloids have suggested that the French authorities are not doing enough to stop people making it across the Channel.

The policy response is to build higher walls around the entrance of the Channel Tunnel.

The interior ministers of both countries writing in the Sunday Telegraph spoke of a "global migration crisis" and asked EU and African countries to help to deal with it.

Change of focus

The UK's call represents a change from a few months ago when Italy's pleas for solidarity and aid dominated the discussion on migration.

In response to Rome's direct requests to all EU states to help with missions to search and rescue migrants and to take their fair share of asylum seekers, the UK agreed to send one ship from its Royal Navy. In 2014, some 170,000 migrants arrived in Italy, a number that is expected to be exceeded this year.

According to Eurostat figures, 26,000 people applied for asylum in the UK in 2014, with 10,000 accepted.

Germany takes the greatest number of refugees of all EU states. The spike in numbers this year, sparked by crises in countries such as Syria, has seen its system put under strain however.

A report in Handelbslatt newspaper notes that with the around 6,000 refugees expected alone in the region on North Rhine Westphalia this week, the capacity to receive and process the applications is stretched to the limit.

Retired civil servants have been called into help while recreation areas, sport halls and the like are being used to house and process migrants' applications.

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