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.
On 13 July, the European Commission proposed more unified European Union (EU) asylum rules in what is the latest bid to stop people waiting for refugee status moving around the bloc and disrupting its passport-free zone.
Last year, in an unprecedented wave of migration, 1.3 million people reached the European continent, with most ignoring legal restrictions and instead opting to trek from the Mediterranean coast to apply for asylum in Germany. This prompted some EU countries to suspend the Schengen Area system, which allows free passage between most EU states.
The new proposal would standardize refugee reception facilities across the bloc and unify the level of state support that they can get, setting common rules on residence permits, travel papers, access to jobs, schools, social welfare and healthcare. It would grant prospective refugees swifter rights to work, however it would also place more obligations on them, effectively meaning that if they do not cooperate with the authorities or head to an EU state of their choice rather than staying put, their asylum application could be jeopardized. The Commission has stated that the five-year waiting period after which refugees are eligible for long-term residence would be started if they move from their designated country. According to EU Migration Commissioner Dimitis Avramopoulos, “the change will create a genuine common asylum procedure,” adding that “at the same time, we set clear obligations and duties for asylum seekers to prevent secondary movements and abuse of procedures.”
The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR has already indicated that it has concerns about the new rules, stating that the new system must not lower standards of protection and asylum.
The plan, which will be reviewed by EU governments and the European Parliament, comes after Brussels proposed in May a system for distributing asylum seekers, an idea that has been opposed by eastern EU states, which refuse to accept refugees. The Commission has reported that only 3,056 people have so far been relocated under the scheme that was meant for 160,000 people. Both Hungary and Slovakia have challenged the system in the courts.
International crime-fighting agencies Interpol and Europol reported on Tuesday that people smugglers have made over US $5 billion from the wave of migration into southern Europe last year.
A report released by the two agencies disclosed that nine out of ten migrants and refugees who entered the European Union (EU) in 2015 relied on “facilitation services,” which comprised of mainly loose networks of criminals along the routes, noting that the proportion was likely to be even higher this year. The report further indicated that about 1 million migrants entered the EU in 2015, adding that most paid between 3,000 – 6,000 euros (US $3,400 – $6,800), so the average turnover was likely to be between US $5 billion and US $6 billion. According to the report, to launcher the money and integrate it into the legitimate economy, couriers carried large amounts of cash over borders while smugglers ran their proceeds through car dealerships, grocery stores, restaurants or transport companies. Furthermore, while the main organizers came from the same countries as the migrants, they often had EU residence permits or passports. The report states that “the basic structure of migrant smuggling networks includes leaders who coordinate activities along a given route, organizers who manage activities locally through personal contacts, and opportunistic low-level facilitators who mostly assist organizers and may assist in recruitment activities.” The report added that corrupt officials may let vehicles through border checks or release ships for bribes, as there was so much money in the trafficking trade. About 250 smuggling “hotspots,” often at railway stations, airports or coach stations, have been identified along the routes, in which of these 170 were inside the EU while 80 were located outside. The reports authors however found no evidence of fighting between criminal groups, noting however that larger criminal networks slowly took over smaller opportunistic ones, effectively leading to an oligopoly. Last year, the vast majority of migrants opted to take risky boat trips across the Mediterranean from Turkey or Libya, and then travelling on by road. The report states that around 800,000 were still in Libya waiting to travel to the EU, noting however that increasing border controls effectively mean that air travel is likely to become more attractive, with fraudulent documents rented out to migrants and then taken back by an accompanying facilitator. The report also indicates that migrant smuggling routes could be used to smuggle drugs or guns, adding that there is a growing concern that radicalized foreign fighters could also use these routes in order to enter the EU. The report however adds that there currently is no concrete data yet to suggest that militant groups consistently relied on or cooperated with organized crime groups.