France should get its 'act together and deal with problem' of Calais migrants, former Home Secretary says

Michael Howard said that the countries in the free-movement Schengen area need to do more

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The Independent Online

France should ‘should its act together and deal with the problem’ of asylum seekers in Calais, former Home Secretary and Conservative leader Michael Howard has claimed, after over 200 migrants tried to storm a UK-bound ferry.

Lord Howard said that Calais’ Mayor Natacha Bouchart was “directing her frustration and her anger at the wrong target” after she demanded the British establishment deal with the migrants or at least offer some remuneration to Calais to do so.

She complained that the British authorities were ignoring their responsibilities and that the town has to deal with policing hundreds of migrants due in part to the attraction of Britain as an employment and welfare “El Dorado”.

Lord Howard said that while he did have “some sympathy” with Calais, France should be ‘taking more seriously its obligation to process asylum seekers’.

Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he said: “The general principle which every member state of the European Union has subscribed to is that refugees, people fleeing persecution, should apply for asylum in the first safe country they reach.


“France used to take this very seriously. When I was Home Secretary, which was quite a long time ago now, we had an agreement with France under which if people came to the UK from France and claimed asylum we returned them to France and France dealt with their claim.

“That is what really ought to happen.”

Earlier this week, Mayor Ms Bouchart threatened to end channel crossings to her town unless Britain put forward more money towards tackling the issue.

Michael Howard says France needs to 'get its act together'

She said she wanted to see a “strong gesture of support from the British government”, which had not happened in the last decade, adding that the town had been “taken hostage” by the 1,300 would-be British asylum seekers who were sleeping rough and trying to board trucks.

On Wednesday, a large group of migrants tried to sprint across the port and forced their way through a gate in an attempt to board a P&O ferry, which has been described by French police as a “worrying change in tactics”.

“The mayor of Calais ought to be directing her frustration at President [Francois] Hollande and getting him to take the kind of action that President [Nicolas] Sarkozy was talking about,” Lord Howard added, referring to the Schengen area.

“We have control of our borders. But it is the countries of the Schengen agreement that ought to get their act together and deal with this problem.”

The Schengen area is a territory of 26 countries within Europe which allows for the free movement of peoples, though the United Kingdom is not part of this scheme. Former French President Mr Sarkozy had spoken about leaving the agreement.

Affected ferry company P&O also called on the French police to step up security this week, though its calls for a greater financial outlay for protection by the French could further strain Anglo-Franco relations.

It was reported last month that ethnic clashes were occurring in Calais over access to lorry parks, with charity workers "overwhelmed" by the surge in migrant numbers.

Migrants from Africa demonstrate in front of the Calais city hall yesterday

However, a blog post by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research rejected the notion that the UK is some sort of 'Holy Grail to illegal immigrants'.

It wrote that the events in the Middle East and Africa were creating an unusual increase in migrant flow to Italy, but that just less than 3 per cent of those deemed illegal actually want to continue on to the UK.

It says that by the end of August, 100,000 migrants would have made the journey to Italy, yet just 1,300 are in Calais - who appear, it says, to be "the exception, not the rule".

Yesterday, a group of people protested outside Calais' City Hall against alleged police violence and deteriorating humanitarian conditions.

One told the BBC: "Europe is always talking about human rights and freedom but we cannot find this here."

According to the Port of Calais’ official website, three ferry companies run 50 departures per day to Dover.

It says it is the closest port to England and is second largest port in Europe for travellers with over 10 million passengers passing through each year.