France has called on Britain to “share” more of the policing and financial “burden” caused by the pile-up of illegal immigrants in Calais.
The French interior minister, Manuel Valls, said that he had invited the Home Secretary Theresa May to meet him in Calais in the New Year to discuss a “renegotiation” of the Anglo-French agreement which led to the closure of the Sangatte refugee camp in December 2002.
Speaking at a press conference in Calais, Mr Valls said the agreement had succeeded in reducing the flow of migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach Britain through the French port. But he said that the current situation - with between 300 and 500 migrants living rough in the Calais area - was an “impasse”.
“Our British friends must take more account of the burden, the weight placed on France by the Calais migrant problem", he said.
The French interior minister rejected suggestions in the British media that he was planning to open “another Sangatte” - the Red Cross refugee camp near the Channel Tunnel entrance which was accused of attracting migrants before its closure. He did confirm, however, that France planned to create a “migrant house” which would provide medical help - but not shelter - to foreigners living rough in the Calais area.
The vast majority of the migrants reaching Calais - including many Syrians, Afghans, Pakistanis and Somalis - refuse to apply for asylum in France. Once they do so, they will lose their right to seek asylum in the UK.
Under the present “Sangatte accords” Britain pays a contribution towards the policing of the migrant problem in Calais. British police and border officials also operate on the French side of the Channel.
Mr Valls' call for Britain to share more of the “burden” is believed to refer to these elements of the accord. France is not suggesting that the Government should allow more immigrants to cross to Kent.
Mr Valls did say, however, that Britain had promised in 2002 to “review” policies which, according to France, make the UK a magnet for migrants.
“We have to review these accords. We have to admit that we are at an impasse (here in Calais),” he said.
Local politicians have criticised Mr Valls for failing to declare the port a “priority security area”, which would boost police numbers. Mr Valls announced that a mobile unit of 60 riot police, intermittently based in Calais, would now be placed permanently in the town.