European Union/migration issues/United Kingdom
Q. – To resolve the situation in Calais, should the migrants be waved through to Britain, as Xavier Bertrand is suggesting?
THE MINISTER – I’m here to resolve a particularly complex situation, which has an international, European, Franco-British and French dimension to it.
Consequently, my concern is to provide lasting solutions to a situation which is bringing its share of human tragedies and calamities every day, and not add to the difficulties.
Q. – What would the consequences of Xavier Bertrand’s proposal be?
THE MINISTER – A very sharp deterioration in the Franco-British relationship, in a context where cooperation between European Union countries is essential for sorting out a global problem. But above all, there would be an immediate influx of very many migrants into Calais once they thought they could enter Britain in complicity with the French government.
By doing this, we would only aggravate the humanitarian problem, with more risk-taking by migrants and a rise in the number of people in situations of distress, because the border would remain closed on the British side. Xavier Bertrand’s solution wouldn’t be good for Europe, Franco-British relations, Calais or the migrants.
It would also send a strange signal to those involved in organized crime and human trafficking: it would be like authorizing people-smugglers to engage in trafficking.
Q. – Nevertheless, aren’t the bilateral agreements signed between France and Britain one-sided, leaving France with the task of dealing with the bulk of the situation?
THE MINISTER – These agreements were signed in 2003 by one of my predecessors, whose name is Nicolas Sarkozy. They were based on the idea that reducing the number of migrants in Calais required sending people-smugglers the very clear signal that the borders were closed, in both France and Britain.
This idea was coherent, but the agreement was a bit unfair because it put a great deal on France’s shoulders and very little on those of the British. This is why I’ve been increasing the number of contacts with the British for several months so that they become more involved in managing a problem which concerns them as much as us.
This resulted in the decision to invest €15 million in making the Port of Calais more secure and, following the meetings I had with my British counterpart Theresa May last week, an extra €10 million to increase tunnel security.
We also – because this is above all a humanitarian problem – managed to get the British to engage actively in supporting vulnerable women and children who are victims of the people-smugglers.
Finally, cooperation between our intelligence and police services has been increased in breaking up people-smuggling rings, with significant results.
Seventeen rings have been broken up since the beginning of 2015, i.e. four times more than in 2014. But I think we have to go further and I’ve asked my British counterpart to get her services to do more.
Q. – Should a Franco-British summit be organized to review in detail the agreements in force?
THE MINISTER – I’d like to remind those calling for summits that one took place last week in London, whose framework was defined by the French President and Prime Minister David Cameron.
Co-chaired by the British Home Secretary and myself, it was the subject of a great deal of interministerial work in our two countries and allowed us to commit ourselves together to working on the security and humanitarian fronts. I’m more interested in the decisions we are constantly taking than in calls for summits.
Q. – Is the situation in Vintimille comparable to the one in Calais?
THE MINISTER – It’s got nothing to do with it. Neither Italy nor France is an island. They have a land border.
Q. – Putting up more fencing, sending sniffer dogs, stepping up the police presence in Calais, as you announced last week… Is this enough to sort out the migration crisis?
THE MINISTER – It’s totally unrealistic to think we’re going to resolve a humanitarian tragedy, resulting from global unrest, with security measures. They are necessary but won’t be enough. There must be a comprehensive solution to this crisis. As such, we have to work with the countries of origin, especially Niger.
I would like us – the French, British, Spanish, Italian and German ministers and Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European Migration Commissioner – to organize a joint visit to Niger to start work with the countries of origin. I’m making active efforts at the moment to get this visit to take place in the next few weeks.
Indeed, holding and readmission centres need to be set up in those countries, involving the European Union, European Commission, the Office of the [UN] High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration.
Reception structures must also be put in place in Italy where we could distinguish between people eligible for asylum in Europe and illegal immigrants, and negotiate with the countries of origin measures which allow them to be immediately deported.
European action to fight illegal immigration networks must be stepped up. We also have to share taking in asylum seekers, in a spirit of solidarity. I’d like to point out that, as a result of action by OFPRA [French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons] and OFII [French Office for Immigration and Integration], 900 Calais migrants were given asylum last year, compared to only 200 the previous year.
In Calais, there must be both humanity and clarity. We must speed up asylum procedures in the framework of common law and also ensure, in a Franco-British framework, that illegal economic migrants are escorted to the border.
There you have all the work we are carrying out. There is no simple solution in this. Populism and electoral concerns must not take precedence over the fundamental issues./.