Le stitch-up: Fury at French call for asylum centre in Calais to help migrants win right to settle in Britain

  • Xavier Bertrand, president of the Calais region, called for action on Calais 
  • He wants a deal for migrants to claim UK asylum  at a ‘hotspot’ in France
  • The plan follows Nicholas Sarkozy’s call for controls to be shifted to the UK

A French plan to let migrants lodge UK asylum claims in Calais sparked a major borders row last night.

Xavier Bertrand, who is chief of the Calais region, called for ‘hotspot’ application centres to be set up in the port city. Migrants hoping to cross the Channel illegally would instead be able to make a British asylum claim while still on French soil.

But British politicians said the idea would make the chaotic situation in Calais even worse. Amber Rudd slapped the proposal down, with sources close to the Home Secretary saying it was a ‘complete non-starter’.

A senior Whitehall insider even suggested the UK could threaten to withdraw security co-operation if France tore up existing border arrangements at Calais.

The Calais 'Jungle' migrant camp, which has become a hotspot in the migration debate

Xavier Bertrand wants a new deal in which migrants hoping to claim asylum in the UK would be able to do so at a 'hotspot' in France

But Home Secretary Amber Rudd (pictured) slapped the proposal down, with sources close to her saying it was a 'complete non-starter'

The hotspot plan would also contravene EU rules that state refugees should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach.

Mr Bertrand said those whose claims were rejected by the UK would be deported directly to their home countries.

He also suggested that unless Britain accepted the hotspot scheme the Le Touquet agreement should be ripped up.

Signed in 2003, this allows UK officials to carry out passport checks on French soil – dramatically cutting illegal immigration.

‘I want a new treatment of asylum claims for migrants who want to claim asylum in England,’ said Mr Bertrand.

‘It is not possible to keep the border here without a new agreement between the French and British governments.

‘If the British government don’t want to open this discussion, we will tell you the Touquet agreement is over.’

A Home Office source said last night that Miss Rudd was ‘crystal clear that people in need of protection should seek asylum in the first safe country they enter’. The source added: ‘That’s the long-held, international norm, and we’re going to stick to it’.

Another senior Whitehall source warned that the French should not tear up the Le Touquet treaty.

‘It would be unwise because they depend on us for a lot of co-operation and training on security issues,’ the source said. ‘The reality is they rely on us more than we rely on them on these issues.’

Britain and France have a close security relationship, including intelligence-sharing, which is of particular importance across the Channel in the wake of the Paris and Nice terrorist attacks.

Officially, Miss Rudd is set to discuss security in Paris today with her French counterpart, interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve, in her first official overseas engagement as Home Secretary.

Migrants on the roof of a lorry in Calais. The area has become a trouble spot for dealing with the flow of migrants from continental Europe

Migrants walk at a site dubbed the 'The Jungle' where thousands of people set up camp in 2015

But it is understood that the crisis over border controls could be raised.

Lord Green of Deddington, from MigrationWatch, which campaigns for tighter borders, said: ‘The suggestion of a so-called hotspot in Calais is nonsensical. It is riddled with legal and practical problems. A flood of applicants could be expected to arrive in the town, making the new situation worse than the first.’

The number of migrants living in the Jungle camp near Calais is expected to reach 10,000 within a month, a French police union boss said yesterday. Jean-Claude Delage said it was turning into a ‘disaster zone’ because of escalating violence and chronic overcrowding.

Sir Peter Ricketts, the former British ambassador to France, said last night that asylum hotspots could make Calais even more of a target for refugees trying to reach Britain.

He said: ‘As soon as you suggested that, there would be a huge magnet pulling thousands and thousands more migrants into Calais to chance their arm, make an asylum claim, hope that they might get to the UK and good luck. So it wouldn’t help the French deal with the problem of thousands of people in Calais – I think it would make it worse, almost certainly.’

John Vine, the former immigration watchdog, said: ‘If this arrangement were to end, one of the biggest impacts on us would be potentially a rise in the number of people coming to Britain to claim asylum.

‘The danger of changing the arrangement for them [France] is that it will encourage, potentially, more people to travel through France if they feel it is easier to get to Britain.’

French Police show a greater presence at Calais Camp

Mr Bertrand does not have the power to change the Le Touquet treaty, but two candidates from his Republican party in next year's presidential race – Nicolas Sarkozy (pictured) and Alain Juppe – have called for reform of the agreement

Charlie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover, added: ‘It would be a big mistake to enable people to apply for UK asylum from France. It would just make Calais a bigger magnet for migrants.’

Keith Vaz, Labour chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, said Mr Bertrand’s proposals were unworkable and undermined the basis of EU asylum law. He added: ‘The processing of asylum claims for Britain on French soil would double the size of the Jungle in Calais and delight the criminal gangs that operate in France and facilitate illegal migration.’

James Berry, a Tory MP on the home affairs committee, said of asylum hotspots: ‘This would be ridiculous and entirely counter-productive because it would attract large numbers of asylum seekers to Calais with a view of getting into the UK.’

The Home Office said it ‘remained committed to working together to protect our shared border in Calais and to maintain the juxtaposed controls. The French government have repeatedly made it clear that removing the juxtaposed controls would not be in the interests of France.’

Last year UK Border Force guards operating on French soil caught 84,088 migrants trying to sneak into Britain – a rate of one every six minutes.

But the number of illegal immigrants caught coming into Britain hidden in trucks, cars and trains has almost trebled in a year – with 6,429 found by the police or immigration officials between April and September 2015.


1. Centres would become magnet for migrants

Allowing migrants to claim asylum in Britain without crossing the Channel would entice thousands more to Calais. At present, many arriving in Europe are discouraged from trying to reach Britain because they know they cannot register claims without sneaking into England on lorries or trains. Instead, they head for the EU’s no-borders Schengen zone. Asylum ‘hotspots’ in France would attract many who would otherwise have gone to countries such as Germany or Sweden.

2. Failed applicants would head to Jungle

Asylum seekers turned down by British officials at the hotspots on French soil are likely to try to sneak across on ferries or through the Eurotunnel from the Jungle camp. The EU has a bad record for sending back those found not to be genuine refugees. In June, leaders were presented with figures that showed as few as 6 per cent of those told to go home to Africa last year actually left. More than 55,000 migrants from the top ten nationalities of arrivals to Italy were told to leave, but only 10,440 were returned, data from the EU’s official statistics agency Eurostat shows.

3. Claims rise would be bureaucratic burden

British officials would be deluged with thousands more asylum claims, creating a bureaucratic nightmare that could require hundreds of Home Office officials to go to France. Many migrants destroy their papers to make it more difficult to judge their claims, so staff would face the difficult task of establishing whether applications were truthful. Of those asylum seekers declined, many would appeal, raising the prospect of makeshift courts having to be set up in the hotspots for judges to rule on the cases.

4. Britain could face a huge bill for camps

Building the centres could prove to be costly, especially if they attract huge numbers of migrants wanting to get to Britain. Applications can take months to process, meaning accommodation would be needed for long periods for asylum seekers awaiting a decision. France would likely seek to pass off part of the cost to the British government. Britain has already contributed millions of pounds towards improving security around the ferry port in Calais and Eurotunnel entrance at Coquelles, but handing over cash to make it easier for people to claim asylum in Britain would leave a bitter taste.

5. Hotspots could breed violence

THE EU has already built hotspots to process asylum claims on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos, but they have created problems from the start. Riot police had to be deployed on Kos in February as angry residents tried to stop construction there. Since March, many of the sites have been turned into detention centres to stop people leaving, but this has led to outbreaks of violence. There have been repeated riots on Lesbos as people take out their frustration at being held and react angrily to being told they face deportation. Tents and blankets were set alight during one such incident in May as a brawl was sparked by a disagreement over the charging of a mobile phone.

6. Risk to rules that allow UK to deport

Under EU rules, migrants are required to apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter. Allowing those already in France to register claims with British officials would suggest this system could be scrapped. Britain has so far managed to stop attempts to revise the so-called Dublin Regulation, but such asylum hotspots on French soil could lead to fresh moves to rewrite the rules. Under the current system, the UK is allowed to return migrants to their first point of entry in the continent. More than 12,000 people have been removed from Britain to other European countries under the rules since 2003. The Home Office has previously boasted that this figure is ‘many more than we have received in return’ from other nations.

Earlier this month a former head of the UK Border Agency claimed that up to one million illegal immigrants may be living in Britain. Rob Whiteman said many of those who slipped into the country under the radar will never be deported. The Home Office does not know how many migrants are working illegally in the UK. MigrationWatch has suggested that it was more than 1.1million.

Mr Bertrand does not have the power to change the Le Touquet treaty, but two candidates from his Republican party in next year’s presidential race – Nicolas Sarkozy and Alain Juppe – have called for reform of the agreement.

The current French government is not proposing to scrap the treaty, which was endorsed again by President Francois Hollande only last month, following talks with Theresa May.

However, opposition politicians and candidates have raised the prospect of scrapping the deal as they jostle for position ahead of next year’s presidential election.

Mr Sarkozy signed the treaty following riots at the former migrant centre in Sangatte.

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