Thursday

21st Nov 2019

Sarkozy campaign targets Calais migrants

French presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy has joined the chorus of French right-wing politicians that want migrants in Calais moved to the UK.

The Jungle, a unofficial refugee camp near the French port, including others that have mushroomed nearby, is expected to soon reach 10,000 people from around 6,000 earlier this year.

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The numbers are growing due to the intensification of conflicts in the Middle East and north Africa and due to warmer weather, which favours sea crossings.

Most want to go to the UK but are stuck in France, with many having risked their lives in their effort to reach Europe.

Sarkozy at a rally in northern France in Le Touquet on Saturday (27 August) said Britain should instead open a centre on its territory to deal with the asylum claims.

“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," he said.

Xavier Bertrand, president of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region, where Calais is located, made similar comments over the weekend.

He said the asylum hopefuls should be able to lodge their claims for UK protection while in France. Those rejected should then be deported to their home countries, he said.

Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart has also requested the issue be offloaded to the UK amid vague demands for "economic compensation".

In July, she told this website that Britain's decision to leave the EU presented a fresh opportunity to revamp Le Touquet, a bilateral border agreement with the UK.

"What I am asking is to take advantage of UK's EU exit vote," she said.

But Damien Careme, the mayor of Grande Synthe, a town near Calais, remained ambivalent of any reform to the pact.

He told this website, also in July, that refugees had already arrived in Calais before the Touquet agreement had been signed in 2003.

"Before the Touquet accords there were Kosovar refugees in Sengatte," he said.

Instead, he noted other factors like Britain's more attractive job market may play a bigger role in luring people to seek protection in the UK.

The 2003 pact allows UK immigration officers to carry out passport checks in Calais. Their French counterparts do the same in Dover.

French president Francois Hollande had earlier said the agreement would not be revamped following a meeting with UK's PM Theresa May over the summer.

But next year's presidential elections in France may pose a fresh challenge to the pact.

Sarkozy is not the only presidential candidate that wants the agreement scrapped and the refugees moved to the UK.

His conservative rival Alain Juppe, France's former prime minister, also wants the deal to be renegotiated.

“The logic requires that border controls take place on British soil," Juppe told the Financial Times in July.

Juppe officially launched his presidential bid over the weekend and is considered the front runner.

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As ex-national leaders, we know it's not easy to withstand public pressures and put collective interests ahead of domestic concerns. But without strong institutional leadership, EU values themselves risk ringing hollow, not least to those seeking protection on Europe's shores.

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