Photographer: Philippe Huguen/AFP via Getty Images

Hollande Says U.K. Must Still Help With Migrants Post-Brexit

  • Rival candidates have called for ripping up Calais deal
  • French government wants more financial help to handle border

French President Francois Hollande, on a visit to the northern French port of Calais, said the vote to leave the European Union doesn’t end Britain’s responsibility to migrants trying to reach its shores.

Hollande is trying to nudge the U.K. government into helping out more with the situation in Calais as his potential rival in next year’s presidential election, Nicolas Sarkozy, threatens to tear up the pact that keeps many would-be migrants off British soil.

“The U.K. is not freed of its obligations because of the sovereign decision that it took,” Hollande said Monday in Calais. “I would say it’s the opposite. I’m calling on U.K. authorities to do their full share today and tomorrow to support France in dealing with the immigration issue.”

Thousands of migrants are camped out around Calais, seeking to board trucks and trains bound for Britain. The existence of the infamous “Jungle” camp, one of several around the city, has become an issue in France’s 2017 presidential election with politicians on both sides of the Channel trying to navigate, and in some instances capitalize on, voters’ concerns about immigration.

“Just the idea of a ‘jungle’ on the territory of the republic is a scandal,” former President Sarkozy said on Europe1 Monday morning as Hollande was in Calais. Sarkozy said the migrants should be housed in Britain, not France, since that’s where they want to apply for asylum.

The border at Calais is governed by the Touquet Accord between Britain and France which Sarkozy himself signed as interior minister in 2003. Unlike an airline traveler who first meets a British customs official upon landing at Heathrow, passengers and vehicles at Calais go through all their U.K. security and other checks on French soil before entering the Channel tunnel or riding a ferry. The deal was intended to prevent disruption on transport links, but has led to would-be migrants massing on the French side of the border.

Brexit Talks

While people without requisite visas are blocked from traveling on to the U.K., the French authorities often can’t deport them either, because France lacks the necessary accords with their countries of origin, or because they are from war-torn regions such as Iraq, Sudan, and Eritrea.

Britain has contributed to the cost of French border controls, and this week work began on a new wall to protect the Calais port from intrusions that’s being funded by Britain. But the French government is seeking more financial help from the U.K., French officials have said.

“Requests will be made to the U.K.,” Hollande said. “The U.K. government has committed to some measures, especially on minors. These commitments must be respected and even increased as the Calais camp is being closed.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May may be particularly sensitive to French appeals for support as she prepares to negotiate the U.K.’s departure from the EU. That process will need as much goodwill from EU leaders as May can muster as she seek to maximize her country’s economic ties to the continent even as she seeks to restrict immigration.

Hollande’s government has said it will stick to the current Touquet Accord, which won’t be affected by Brexit because it’s a bilateral agreement. Still, he said Monday he wants “the Jungle” to be dismantled. The French government has proposed sending the Calais migrants to smaller centers across France.

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