Britain and France vow to stem migrant crisis

Joint statement says other EU countries must also help to tackle the problem at its roots

Pro-migrant protesters near the Eurotunnel terminal in Folkestone on Saturday. The town was also the scene of rival protests by anti-migrant groups.
Pro-migrant protesters near the Eurotunnel terminal in Folkestone on Saturday. The town was also the scene of rival protests by anti-migrant groups.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

CALAIS (France) • France and Britain vowed that ending a crisis which has seen thousands of attempts by migrants to reach England from Calais in recent weeks is a "top priority".

The joint statement yesterday came as a French opposition lawmaker accused British Prime Minister David Cameron of failing to grasp "the severity of the problem", and said migrants should not be stopped from going to Britain unless stronger measures were taken.

Hundreds of migrants have tried to make it into the Channel tunnel in recent weeks in the hopes of finding a way onto a train or lorry headed for Britain. At least 10 migrants have died attempting the dangerous journey since June.

Last week, the British government pledged 10 million euros (S$15.1 million) to improve fencing around the Eurotunnel rail terminal in Coquelles, outside Calais. Mr Cameron promised "more fencing, more resources, more sniffer dog teams" to aid French police.

The new measures sent "a clear message", said French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve and his British counterpart, Ms Theresa May, in a statement published in France's Journal Du Dimanche and in Britain's Telegraph newspaper.

"Our border is secure, and there is no easy way into the UK," they wrote. They said the world was facing "a global migration crisis" that required a European and international response, and warned that the burden of tackling the problem should not lie with Britain and France alone.

"Many of those in Calais and attempting to cross the channel have made their way there through Italy, Greece or other countries," the pair wrote. Ultimately, the crisis had to be addressed at the roots by "reducing the number of migrants who are crossing into Europe from Africa" for economic reasons.

"Our streets are not paved with gold," they said, adding that both governments were now sending back about 200 migrants a month who do not qualify for asylum.

However, French opposition lawmaker Xavier Bertrand accused Mr Cameron of underestimating the problem.

"If he continues not to propose anything else, let's let the migrants leave and let Mr Cameron handle his politics in his own way, but on his own island," Mr Bertrand, a former employment minister, told the Journal Du Dimanche.

The crisis has become a hot political issue on both sides of the channel. Divided public opinion on the issue of immigration sparked small rival protests on Saturday in the British port town of Folkestone, at the mouth of the Eurotunnel, with those welcoming migrants in one camp and far-right wingers opposed to their presence in the other.

"We are here to make it clear to the migrants that many people here would welcome them and that the way they are being treated is not in our name," said Ms Bridget Chapman, organiser of the pro-migrant demonstration.

But nearby, right-wingers chanted: "British people don't want immigration." Mr Paul Golding, leader of the Britain First party, said: "We haven't got enough space for our own people, let alone a torrent of mass immigration."

Around 3,000 people from Africa, the Middle East and Asia are currently camped in Calais waiting to cross into Britain illegally.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2015, with the headline 'Britain and France vow to stem migrant crisis'. Subscribe