Paris, France is to open its first refugee camp in October in response to asylum seekers living in the city’s streets.
Mayor Anne Hidalgo has disclosed that a camp to house 400 men would be opened at a site in the north of the city in mid-October while a camp for women and children, in the suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine, will follow by the end of the year. Makeshift camps have appeared in public areas and streets in Paris, before being cleared by police. Hundreds of people dispersed in the city hours before the latest announcement. The two camps will cost an estimated 6.5 million euros (US $7.3 million; £5.4 million) and will provide shelter and medical care for asylum seekers for five to ten days.
Meanwhile investigators have disclosed that a planned centre for 200 asylum seekers in Essonne, which is located 30 km (20 miles) southwest of Paris, was set on fire overnight. The planned centre in Essonne, at Forges-les-Bains, was due to take in ninety people in October. French media have reported that a meeting on 5 September to discuss it was attended by protesters who dispersed late in the evening. The fire was reported to the authorities at about 2:30 local time (00:30 GMT). French police are expected to launch an investigation into the case of the fire.
Calls have also been mounting to close th emigrant camp in Calais, in northern France, near the entrance to the Channel Tunnel. Earlier in the week, protesters causes severe disruption as they blocked roads near the port town, demanding the closure of the “Jungle” camp. Hundreds formed a human chain, joined by farmers and local businesspeople. Calais mayor Natacha Bouchat, who was amongst the protesters, stated that things were “becoming unbearable and something needs to be done.” About 7,000 migrants now live in the “Jungle,” with many attempting to reach Britain in lorries crossing the Channel. In August, the authorities in France and the United Kingdom agreed to increase security and humanitarian aid in Calais and to further secure the Channel Tunnel.
Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on the European Union (EU) and North African countries to do deals modelled on a controversial agreement that was signed with Turkey earlier this year to stem migrant flows to Europe.
Under the EU-Turkey agreement, Ankara agreed to take back one Syrian who made it to Greece in return for being allowed to send one from its massive refuge camps to the bloc in a more orderly redistribution programme. The agreement also pledges billions of euros in EU aid to Turkey, along with visa-free European travel for Turkish citizens and accelerated EU membership talks.
Last week, the German Chancellor told regional daily Neue Passauer Zeitung, “we must agree on similar deals with other countries, such as in North Africa, in order to get better control over the Mediterranean Sea refuge routes.” She further stated, “such agreements are also in the interest of the refugees themselves,” pointing to the huge risks that migrants take in crossing the Mediterranean in rickety vessels, as well as the large sums that they have to pay smugglers for the perilous sea passage. She added, “it is safer for them and there are good reasons for them to remain in Turkey, close to their homeland, where the cultural and language barriers are lower,” defending the agreement with Turkey as “correct, as before,” and stating, “we should work to ensure that it lasts.” Merkel has also urged EU partners to stop up to their responsibilities in taking in refuges who had arrived in Greece. Prior to the EU-Turkey agreement taking effect, some 45,000 refugees had arrived in Greece as Macedonia closed its borders to the migrants.
There are increasing concerns across the EU that the pact with Turkey to curb migrant flows could collapse as a rift deepens over Ankara’s crackdown following a failed coup. Turkey angrily rejects EU criticism that its post-putsch purges might violate rights norms that Ankara must meet under the agreement in return for visa-free travel for Turks and accelerated negotiations for bloc membership. Hungary has already announced that it will build a second fence along its southern border with Serbia that would effectively enable it to keep out any major new wave of migrants should the EU-Turkey agreement collapse.
The United Kingdom and France have pledged to work together and to “step up” moves to improve the migrant situation in Calais, France.
A statement released shortly after UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd met with her French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve indicates that both countries would resolve the situation through “close co-operation,” adding that the UK and France would also further secure the port and tunnel in the city.
In the statement, France and the UK further agreed to:
- Bear down on the organized crime gangs exploiting the vulnerable. In 2015, twenty-eight criminal networks were disrupted while since the beginning of this year, an additional 28 have been disrupted.
- Address the humanitarian challenges in Calais as around 7,000 migrants are now present, including 5,000 who are without housing.
- Work together in order to return illegal migrants in Calais who are not in need of protection.
- Further secure the port. A total of 100 million Euros have already been provided by British authorities to reinforce security while French authorities have been providing 1,000 police day and night to prevent intrusion. This scheme has just been recently reinforced by an additional 160 officers.
Ms Rudd and Mr Cazeneuve further disclosed that “the two countries recognize the humanitarian situation in Calais that affects both countries and the need to stop up joint efforts to improve the situation in Calais.”
The show of unity follows calls to allow migrants to lodge UK asylum claims on French soil, something that a source at the Home Office has dismissed as a “complete non-starter.” On 29 August, Xavier Bertrand, the president of the Hauts-de-France region where Calais is located, disclosed that Calais migrants should be allowed to lodge UK asylum claims in France. Under the 2003 Le Touquet agreement between France and the UK, Britain can carry out checks in Calais on people heading to the UK while French officials can do the equivalent in Dover. Mr Bertrand however has stated that he wanted a “new treatment” for asylum seekers trying to get to the UK, adding that people living in the Calais camp known as the Jungle should be able to apply at a “hotspot” in France rather than waiting to reach Britain. He added that those who failed would be deported directly to their country of origin. Under the current rules, which is known as the Dublin Regulation, refugees must register in the first European country that they reach. This country usually takes charge of their asylum claim. While Mr Bertrand does not have the power to change the treaty, some of the candidates looking to win next year’s presidential election in France, including former President Nicolas Sarkozy, agree with him that it should either be reformed or scrapped.
The Jungle camp in Calais, which has about 7,000 people living there, has become the focal point of France’s refugee crisis. Many attempt to reach the UK by hiding inside vehicles entering the nearby port and the Channel Tunnel. Debate over border controls was a key issue during the EU referendum campaign. At the time, former prime minister David Cameroon claimed that the Jungle could move to England if the UK left the EU. However jest weeks after the warning, the then-PM and French President Francois Holland agreed a “mutual commitment” to keep it in place. After the Brexit vote, new UK Prime Minister Theresa May and President Hollande have reiterated that commitment.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced on 26 August that the country is planning to build a second fence on its southern border with Serbia that would effectively enable it to keep out any major new wave of migrants.
Orban told public radio that the new barrier, which is to be built alongside the existing one, would strengthen defences to respond if Turkey’s policy on migration changed, adding that if that occurred, hundreds of thousands could appear at Hungary’s border. He noted that “technical planning is under way to erect a more massive defence system next to the existing line of defence, which was built quickly (last year).” Orban also disclosed that Hungary had to prepare for the eventuality of a deal between Turkey and the European Union (EU) to clamp down on migration into Europe via the Balkans unravelling, adding, “then if it does not work with nice words, we will have to stop them with force, and we will do so.” He also indicated that Hungary would increase its police presence to 47,000 from 44,000, of which 3,000 will be constantly deployed on the southern border.
A razor-wire fence built along Hungary’s southern border with Serbia and Croatia has sharply reduced the flow of migrants. Last year, hundreds of thousands of migrants moved up from the Balkans towards northern Europe. That flow however has since been reduced to no more than a steady trickle.
Under the existing agreement between Turkey and the EU, Turkey has agreed to help stem the tide of illegal migrants into the bloc in exchange for aid and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan however has repeatedly stated that European leader are not living up to their side of the pact.
On Friday, Orban and other prime ministers of Central European EU member states, the Visegrad countries, met in Warsaw along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Orban stated that the task for politicians was to change a decision by the EU to let in migrants and distribute them based on quotas among member states. Oran stated that “the question is whether Angela Merkel will be willing to change this flawed Brussels decision together with us. Whether she is willing to fight with us for this, or not.” Hunger is due to hold a referendum on 2 October on whether to accept any future EU quota system for resettling migrants.
Greece’s migration minister has told German daily Bild that the European Union (EU) needs to come up with an alternative plan for tackling migration after Turkey threatened to back out of an accord that was signed in March to help stem the influx of migrants to Europe.
Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated that Ankara would back out of the agreement with the EU if the bloc did not deliver the promised visa-free travel for Turks in return. The 28-nation EU is dependent on Ankara to enforce the agreement, which has been responsible for sharply cutting the number of refugees and migrants leaving Turkish shores for Greece. Along with it major financial crisis, Greece has struggled to cope with the influx, with Greek Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas telling Bild, “we are very concerned…We need, in any case, a Plan B.” Mouzalas also called for a fairer distribution of refugees in Europe, however some countries, including Hungary and Slovakia, have objected to a proposed EU quota system for resettling migrants across the bloc.
However on 1 August, German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel disclosed that Europe would not be blackmailed by Turkey in talks on visa liberalisation, which have been hampered by a dispute over Turkish anti-terrorism legislation and a crackdown in the wake of an abortive coup on 15 July.
On 2 August, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that more than 257,000 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea from the start of this year to 27 July, adding that at least 3,000 have died. The IOM further reported that these figures represent a sharp increase from the same period in 2015.