Calais’ Mayor Threatens Action Over British Immigration

September 9, 2014

The mayor of Calais said that she would be willing to blockade the French ferry port, should Britain fail to provide more financial support as the city seeks to handle thousands of migrants there. Many of the migrants in the northern sea port – one of the most important routes between the UK and continental Europe – are there because they are seeking entry to the UK without a confirmed legal status that allows them to do so freely.

Natacha Bouchart, Calais’ mayor, admitted that such a move would have a dubious legal basis but she said that it would be carried out if “a strong gesture from the UK” was not forthcoming. She went on to say that her city’s authorities needed help to deal with increasing numbers of migrants in the area, many of whom are from war­torn countries that include Ethiopia, Somalia, Afghanistan and Sudan. French police claim there are now about 1,200 migrants in Calais, mostly from east Africa. Bouchart, who is a centre­right politician, said that the UK needed to assist when it came to these migrants who often sleep rough and try stow away on lorries and ferries that are bound for the English Channel ports, principally Dover.

According to Bouchart, the issue of migrants that are stuck in Calais trying to reach the UK costs her city’s taxpayers about 10 million euros a year. Indeed, the figure may be on the rise because the migrants seem to be increasingly desperate to reach their goal. Around 100 migrants try to access a ferry together in a somewhat coordinated effort in late August and the French authorities expect to spend more and more policing the would­be UK residents as numbers continue to rise. During the incident, ramps to the ferries had to be raised to prevent the would­be immigrants from boarding. French news agency reports said that people forced a gate and then climbed over fences, in a situation that temporarily overwhelmed the port’s security staff.

Speaking at a meeting with the French Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, Miss Bouchart said, “I can take the decision to block the port and I have ways of exerting pressure.” She went on to accuse the British government of wanting tough security in the port to protect the UK’s borders whilst providing nothing by way of financial support to achieve it. “For the past decade, there has been no response from the British Government and today it has become nothing less than an emergency,” she added.

During the meeting with Mr Cazeneuve, the decision was taken to open a day centre for migrants in the area. In addition, planned provision for a night shelter, which would be made available to migrant women and children, gained approval. Of course, such humanitarian measures come at a price and it is hardly surprising that the mayor of Calais is seeking some form of response from the British in support of these actions.

Teresa May, the UK Home Secretary who is the Secretary of State with responsibility for the UK’s border control, met with Mr Cazeneuve on 29 August and the issue of the Calais migrants is known to have come up. Reports in the French press state that Cazeneuve pushed May to participate in a financial way that would help secure the port.

Following the meeting between the two ministers a joint statement was issued. It acknowledged that the upward trend in migrant numbers at Calais, and the surrounding regions, since the spring of 2014 had led to very difficult social, public order and economic problems. It went on to state that both countries have a duty to strengthen their efforts to find novel solutions and to alleviate the impact of migrants on the citizenry of Calais as well as its economy. However, it would appear that ­ in Bouchart’s opinion, at least – the statement put forward by May and Cazeneuve is not enough and the time has come to threaten more drastic measures.

As well as the agreed night shelter and day centre, it is likely that the French will proceed with a children's summer camp about three miles from Calais. However, Cazeneuve has refused to grant Calais’ plea for an overnight hostel which could accommodate around 400 adults. The minister said that such a move would act as a magnet for migrants. This, he said, would be a step too far and merely recreate the conditions of the notorious Sangatte centre, located close to the Channel Tunnel entrance, which was shut in 2002.

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