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Belgium turns back migrants at border drawing French ire

© Kurt Desplenter, Belga, AFP | Police patrol the coastline near the Belgian port of Zeebrugge amid concern migrants in Calais might seek an alternative route into the UK.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-02-25

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve on Thursday sharply criticised Belgium's decision to impose checks at the border with France to stop people coming from the "Jungle" migrant camp in Calais.

"This decision is a strange one, just as is its motivation," Cazeneuve said ahead of talks with his EU counterparts on Europe’s worsening migrant crisis.

Belgium on Tuesday launched a huge operation to monitor three border crossings and surrounding sand dunes in the De Panne region bordering France.

This was in anticipation of a decision by France to demolish part of the notorious "Jungle" migrant camp in the port city of Calais, near the Channel Tunnel rail link which leads to Britain.

Belgian officials say migrants who are driven out of their shacks in the “Jungle” are likely to seek an alternative route to Britain via the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.

But Cazeneuve rejected fears that dismantling the Calais “Jungle” would push migrants towards Belgium.

"Any claim that this (operation) could cause an increase in the flow of migrants to the Belgian border does not correspond to reality," he said, adding that Belgian authorities had failed to warn France of the new measures.

’80 migrants turned back’

Cazeneuve’s comments came a day after Belgian police said they had turned back 80 migrants since reinstating controls.

"Over the past 24 hours we have prevented 80 people, mainly Afghans, from coming into Belgium," police spokesman Peter Dewaele told a press conference at De Panne.

"A further 25 people -- Syrians, Iranians and Afghans -- have been intercepted on Belgian territory. After having been interrogated by the Foreigners' Office, they were immediately driven back to the French border."

Nicholas Paelinck, head of the police in Belgian's western coastal region, said the migrants were trying to travel dozens of miles (kilometres) on "smugglers vehicles" -- or by simply taking bus, trains or trams.

Officials said the operation, involving around 300 officers and a helicopter, would last as long as necessary, noting a huge increase in the number of migrants in the space of a year.

Police said they had stepped up patrols in Zeebrugge, where a number of migrants have already arrived.

The "Jungle" camp is on the outskirts of town. Most of the 6,000 migrants there want to make it to Britain. Photo © Sarah Leduc

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
 

Date created : 2016-02-25

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