Macron pledges to prevent another ‘jungle’ in Calais
French president addresses each of the players in port town migrant drama
French president Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech to police officers and gendarmes in the Gendarmerie headquarters in Calais, northern France, on Tuesday. Photograph: Etienne Laurent/EPA
The encampment on dunes outside Calais was home to more than 8,000 people when it was dismantled in October 2016. Today, about 500 migrants continue to live homeless in Calais.
“Everything is done to make sure that illegal passage to the UK is not possible,” Macron said in an hour-long speech in a barracks of the paramilitary gendarmerie. “Calais must not be a back door to England. In no event will we allow a ‘jungle’ to be rebuilt in Calais.”
Macron addressed a specific message to each of the actors in the Calais migrant drama, starting with Britain. He will travel to Sandhurst on Thursday to see prime minister Theresa May. “We will bring up several elements of our shared management that we must improve,” Macron said.
Under the 2004 Le Touquet Accord, the British border begins at Calais, where British police and immigration officials are stationed. Macron may seek a revision of the agreement, which French critics regard as too favourable to the UK.
Macron said he will ask May for three things: more help with unaccompanied minors who want to go to Britain; stronger police co-operation and funds for the development of the Calais area. France received 25,000 unaccompanied minors last year. Britain accepted only a tiny fraction of them. The migrant crisis has all but destroyed tourism in Calais.
Interior minister Gérard Collomb will next month present a draft law on immigration reform. “For years, we have done everything backwards,” Macron said. “We let anyone in. We take an unacceptably long time to grant asylum... in some places more than two years. We don’t invest enough to integrate those who obtain asylum, and we don’t expel those who settle illegally.” His policy, Macron said, “aims to put all that in the right order”.
Macron used a carrot-and-stick approach to the 1,100 security forces deployed in Calais, to the migrants themselves and to the charitable associations that help them, alternately praising and warning each of the three.
Several aid groups have filed a lawsuit against police and gendarmes who they accuse of brutality towards the migrants.
Macron thanked security forces for their “extraordinary” efforts and promised them a bonus. But he also reminded them that “The men and women who leave their countries and take risks to cross a continent and the sea to arrive here… No one can think that these people are happy. They are human beings whose humanity we must recognise.”
Macron blamed the situation in Calais on “the brutality of our world”. He summarised the accusations against security forces, while appearing to dispute them. “I cannot give credence to the idea that the forces of order use physical violence, confiscate personal effects, wake people in the middle of the night, use tear gas at water taps and when meals are distributed. If that is done, it is unethical. If it is proven, it will be punished.”
Macron also warned migrants. “Staying in Calais, building makeshift huts in the underbrush and the swamps, living in squats, is an impasse,” he said, urging them to go instead to a welcome centre where their applications for asylum would be examined.
Police accuse NGOs of aiding and abetting illegal immigration. Three groups, L’Auberge des Migrants, Utopia 56 and Médecins du Monde refused to meet the president late on Tuesday. Macron thanked them too, but said that “when associations encourage men and women to stay here, or even to cross the border illegally, they take a huge responsibility. The state will never be on their side.”
Mr Macron pleaded for a “consistent” EU migration policy based on greater solidarity. The so-called “Dublin system” which requires migrants to apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter is not working, he said. Nor was it possible to allow migrants to apply in any country they choose. He advocated “a sole, integrated system of control… which will enable us to move towards a European asylum office”.