France and Britain yesterday vowed that ending a crisis which has seen thousands of attempts by migrants to reach England from Calais, France, in recent weeks is a “top priority.”
The joint statement 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 England 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.
Earlier this week, the British government pledged 10 million euros (US$11 million) to improve fencing around the Eurotunnel rail terminal in Coquelles, outside Calais.
Cameron, who has warned that the crisis could last all summer, promised “more fencing, more resources, more sniffer dog teams” to aid French police in their nightly cat-and-mouse game with migrants.
The new measures sent “a clear message,” according to French Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve and British Home Secretary Theresa May in a statement published in France’s Journal Du Dimanche and in Britain’s Telegraph newspaper.
“Our border is secure... 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,” they wrote.
Ultimately, the crisis has 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 wrote, adding that both governments were currently sending back about 200 migrants per month who do not qualify for asylum.
“Tackling this situation is the top priority for the UK and French governments. We are committed and determined to solve this, and to solve it together,” Cazeneuve and May added.
However, French opposition lawmaker Xavier Bertrand accused Cameron of underestimating the problem.
“If he continues not to propose anything else, let us let the migrants leave and let Mr Cameron handle his politics in his own way, but on his own island,” Bertrand, a former French minister of labor, employment and health, told the Journal Du Dimanche.
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 Channel Tunnel, 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 Bridget Chapman, organizer of a pro-migrant demo.
However, nearby right-wingers chanted: “Britain first, taking our country back.”
“British people do not want immigration,” Britain First leader Paul Golding said. “We are a small overcrowded island. We have not got enough space for our own people, let alone a torrent of mass immigration into this country.”
French police on Saturday said that about 300 migrants in Calais attempted to reach Britain via the Channel Tunnel overnight — a significant drop from previous nights after security in Calais was beefed up.
On Thursday night, French authorities faced more than 1,000 attempts by migrants camped out in the port of Calais to reach the Channel Tunnel.
That number was already significantly down on the more than 2,000 daily attempts by migrants to breach the defenses recorded earlier last week.
France this week sent 120 additional police officers to the northern port city to stem the crisis.
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