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Fact check: Sarkozy’s take on the Calais migrant situation

Philippe Huguen, AFP | Nicolas Sarkozy walks with Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart on September 21, 2016.

Hoping to be nominated by his centre-right party for next year’s presidential election, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy visited Calais this week, where he decried the current government’s “absence of authority” over the migrant situation.


But did Sarkozy, who is campaigning for the Les Républicains's (formerly UMP) party nomination in next year's election, do any better when he was in office, first as interior minister from 2002 to 2007, then as president from 2007 to 2012?

The situation in Calais, where the squalid “Jungle” migrant camp has made international headlines, is a top subject for politicians of all stripes ahead of party primaries and next year's presidential election. 

Most of them have been guilty, to some degree, of hypocrisy and of bending the truth to suit their political aims. Sarkozy was no exception. Here’s what he said:

“The Calais situation demonstrates a complete surrender of the French state”

In the run-up to November’s primary, Sarkozy has been criticising the Socialist government’s policies (or lack of policies) without pause.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has not been idle. He has promised to “completely dismantle” of the camp and to send its approximately 9,000 refugee and migrant residents to “welcome and orientation” (CAO) and “Asylum seekers’" centres (CADA) situated across the French territory. In March, the French authorities dismantled the southern half of the Jungle camp, which was home to some 3,500 people.

What did Sarkozy do during his 2002-2007 term as Interior Mnister? As soon as he was appointed, he promised that he would double down on the developing immigration situation in and around Calais. The Jungle camp didn’t exist back then, but there was a refugee camp at nearby Sangatte, used as a staging post for migrants hoping to make it to the UK. Sangatte was opened by the French government in 1999 as a shelter for up to 800 people. In three years, some 70,000 people had passed through.

In 2002, the local population was at the end of its tether. The government promised to step in, and duly closed the Sangatte centre. This didn’t deter the refugees, who still headed to Calais, camping in squalid conditions around the city. Ten years later, the Jungle camp came into being, just as Sarkozy was finishing his term as president.

"The French have no business policing the UK’s border"

On his visit to Calais this week, Sarkozy said he wanted to renegotiate the Le Touquet Treaty, signed in 2003, that effectively shifted the UK border from Dover to Calais. Under the agreement, France cannot allow migrants to cross the border at will. Those who are refused entry to the UK are stuck in France. The Le Touquet Treaty was signed by none other than Nicolas Sarkozy while he was Interior Minister.

“We cannot have the Calais situation multiplied across France”

This is what Sarkozy said on France 2 television just before his visit to Calais. In doing so, he hinted that there was a risk of “Jungle” camps springing up all over France.

The statement broadly contradicts Cazeneuve’s plan, that those migrants who do not wish to go to Asylum Seekers’ centres (CADA) will be sent to welcome and orientation centres (CAO) instead. There are already 161 of these centres in France, generally in publicly-owned buildings, which welcome refugees and migrants according to their capacity and the size of the towns in which they are situated. “There are not 161 mini-Jungles in France,” Cazeneuve said in response to Sarkozy’s statement. “These are untruths, a vulgar and outrageous exploitation of the situation.”

As for migrants who decide to leave the welcome centres? The majority head straight back to Calais, hoping to make it across the English Channel. Few among them would choose to set themselves up for good in shantytowns on the outskirts of French cities.


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