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France and UK sign Calais cooperation agreement

Philippe Huguen, AFP | French Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve (right) and Britain Home Secretary Theresa May in Calais, in northern France, on August 20, 2015 in Calais

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and his British counterpart Theresa May signed a deal on Thursday to set up a joint crisis centre aimed at tackling people smugglers in Calais.


Under the agreement, a second facility will also be built near the entrance to the Channel Tunnel to reduce nightly break-in attempts by migrants.

“They’re setting up a command and control centre to go after the traffickers, the people who are making money out of the misfortunes of the refugees and asylum seekers who’ve been turning up at Calais”, said Rob Parsons, FRANCE 24’s chief foreign editor.

The increased security measures include higher fences, new surveillance cameras and more infrared detection technology to prevent migrants from climbing onto trucks and trains.

“A couple of months ago, 2 000 people were attempting to get through every night. That’s been cut down already to 100-150 and that’s partly through introducing toughest tougher security measures: more fencing, better fencing, more lighting. Part of this deal will be more of that”, explains Parsons.

Britain will also provide 10 million euros ($11.2 million) over two years to speed up asylum applications and boost humanitarian aid.


But, Cazeneuve told journalists at a press conference in Calais: “Our cooperation will not be restricted to security operations, we’ve also talked about the humanitarian aspect and would like to improve the way in which women and children, who are in a highly vulnerable situation, are welcomed. Precisely because they are vulnerable, they are the hands of human trafficking networks.”

Since the beginning of 2015, Cazeneuve said French police had broken 19 human trafficking networks operating in the area, arresting 514 people.

The situation in Calais has hit the headlines in recent weeks as migrants make attempt after attempt to enter the under-Channel Eurotunnel to reach Britain, some paying for it with their lives.

Last month, a Sudanese man in his 30s died, apparently crushed to death by a lorry. At least 10 people have been killed since June trying to get to Britain where many already have family and work is perceived as easier to find.

Some 3,000 people from Africa, the Middle East and Asia are camped in Calais in slum-like conditions, and while France and Britain have tried to present a united front in tackling the crisis, the issue has strained ties between the two countries.

The Calais encampments have resulted in tit-for-tat rows, with each side blaming the other for failing to cope with the crisis.

Soured relations between Paris and London

Politicians in Britain have accused France of security failings, while London has been slammed by Paris for making it too easy for migrants to work illegally, thus luring them to its shores.

The two ministers visited the site around the Eurotunnel rail terminal in Coquelles outside Calais where security has been increased, sparking a recent drop in the number of attempts by migrants to breach the tunnel.

Cazeneuve will then travel to Berlin to meet his German counterpart Thomas de Maiziere for talks on Europe's migration policies, his ministry said.

Germany, as Europe's biggest economy, has become the top destination for refugees and the Handelsblatt newspaper on Tuesday quoted government sources as saying the number of people seeking asylum could surge to 750,000 this year, far above the 500,000 initially predicted.

EU border agency Frontex on Tuesday reported a record high of 107,500 migrants at the European Union's borders last month.

And the number of migrants arriving in crisis-hit Greece is accelerating dramatically, with nearly 21,000 landing on the overstretched Greek islands last week alone, the United Nations said.

"This is an absolute human tragedy, with people who are dying and people who are in terrible situations," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Thursday.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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