Hollande warns UK not to abandon Calais obligations
By Eszter Zalan
French president Francois Hollande vowed to dismantle the Calais migrant camp by the end of the year, and called on the UK to help despite the Brexit vote.
Hollande visited the port city of Calais on Monday (26 September), where the makeshift camp, also called the “Jungle” is located, for the first time since assuming office in 2012.
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He said the camp, where between 7,000 and 10,000 people live, hoping to cross the Channel, was a “humanitarian emergency”.
"I have come to Calais to confirm the decision that I took with the government... to dismantle [the camp] definitively, completely and rapidly, that means by the end of the year," Hollande said.
In his speech the French president vowed to shut down the camp “with determination”, so that new camps don't reappear near Calais or elsewhere in France.
The French government is planning to disperse the people from the Jungle across 164 migrant centres in France, where they would be able to apply for asylum, before winter.
These centers will hold 40-50 people for up to four months while authorities decide on their cases. Those who do not want to seek asylum in France, would be deported.
Hollande also called on Britain to do its part in securing the port.
“We must guarantee a durable and effective sealing of the French-British border,” he said, insisting that British authorities must also do "their part."
"I am determined to see the British authorities play their part in the humanitarian effort that France is undertaking" in Calais, Hollande said.
The French president argued that despite the UK’s decision to leave the EU, it still has responsibility for the migrants camped in Calais, waiting for an opportunity to make their way across the Channel.
"Just because the United Kingdom has taken a sovereign decision, it does not mean it is freed from its obligations towards France," he said.
Hollande also added that the Brexit vote has no effect on the bilateral agreement, which makes it possible for British immigration officers to check vehicles and passports in the Calais port.
Last week, construction began on a British-funded wall to stop migrants from attempting to hide in trucks in Calais heading for Britain.
Competing on Calais
Hollande’s Socialist Party is catching up with former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy, and far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who both made migration a centrepiece of their campaign ahead of next year’s presidential election.
Hollande has not yet officially announced if he would seek re-election, but is coming under increasing pressure from his rivals on migration and to shut down the Jungle.
Sarkozy, visiting Calais last week as part of his campaign to be the presidential candidate for the Republicans party, said he would be able to solve the issue in a few months by re-establishing strict border controls around the country.
He said he would renegotiate the 2003 border management agreement between France and the UK and oblige Britain to set up a “hotspot” centre to deal with refugees and asylum seekers on its own side of the Channel.