Returning migrants to France's Calais face tough measures

Published 24.06.2017 23:17
Updated 24.06.2017 23:23

Amid a fresh surge of migrants in Calais trying to get to the U.K., France's interior minister ruled out a new migrant reception center in Calais and said he would deploy extra riot police to contain a new influx of people roaming the port city in search of food and shelter.

The announcement, which comes after the country's human rights watchdog, spoke of "inhuman living conditions" facing migrants, indicates newly-elected President Emmanuel Macron wants to show he is tough on security and will not backtrack on the eviction of thousands of migrants last November.

"We can't set up another reception center in Calais because it would reproduce what happened before; you go from a few hundred to a few thousand migrants," Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told reporters on a visit to Calais. "It's an issue that must be dealt with but not only in Calais."

Aid agencies say about 400-600 migrants are once again gathered and sleeping rough on streets.

For most migrants, Calais is the last stop before an attempt to cross the short sea stretch to Britain. It has become a symbol of Europe's troubles dealing with the influx of people fleeing war and poverty in countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Syria and Eritrea.

Collomb said he would send two extra squadrons of riot police to the zone and had been asked by Macron to produce a plan within two weeks on how to better manage the situation. That, government spokesman Christophe Castaner said, would focus on speeding up the time taken to process asylum requests and filter out people who will be sent back to their country of origin if they fail to qualify as war refugees. Collomb rejected calls from local humanitarian organizations for a new center to handle a resurgence of migrant arrivals in a city where makeshift camp dubbed The Jungle was demolished last November.

France's human rights watchdog said in a statement this month that migrants in Calais were living in "inhuman living conditions" and that its officials had found evidence of "unprecedented" rights violations after interviewing migrants.

In March, the mayor of Calais signed a decree banning gatherings that could stop aid groups from distributing meals on the grounds that it was causing a rise in ethnic tensions and conflict between rival groups of migrants. Francois Guennoc, a spokesman for local charity Auberge des Migrants, said police officers were now actively preventing volunteers from distributing food and water. "Every day we are seeing manhunts, illegal violence at the hands of the police, harassment of refugees and the prevention of the distribution of water and meals," Guennoc said.

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