Britain seeks to reaffirm Calais migrant deal to keep thousands in France

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 30, 2016 6:32 AM

LONDON/PARIS (Reuters) - Britain's new interior minister, Amber Rudd, will meet her French counterpart in Paris on Tuesday to reaffirm the deal which allows Britain to make border checks in Calais and keep thousands of migrants and asylum seekers in France.

The meeting comes days after French presidential contender Nicolas Sarkozy said Britain should deal on its own territory with migrants camped in the northern town, joining similar calls by Alain Juppe, also a conservative presidential candidate.

There are close to 7,000 migrants sprawled across the area known as the "Jungle" north of Calais, with the aim of many to reach Britain illegally through the Channel Tunnel. Non-governmental organizations put the number at over 9,000.

"We remain committed to working together to protect our shared border in Calais," a spokesman for Rudd said, while adding that the meeting would focus on security.

"We firmly believe in the established principle ... that those in need of protection should seek asylum in the first safe country they enter."

Some French and British officials, including then prime minister David Cameron, had warned Britain that the Anglo-French Le Touquet agreement could be harmed if the country voted to leave the European Union at a referendum on June 23.

Sarkozy's comments chimed with Xavier Bertrand, the region's head, who said France should scrap the agreement unless British Prime Minister Theresa May agreed to renegotiate the system agreed under the accord which allows British officials to check passports in France.

Bertrand, who belongs to the same party as Sarkozy and Juppe, the conservative Les Republicains, has no power on migration issues, which was a hot-button issue in the Brexit vote in Britain and is now also in the campaign for next April's presidential election in France.

France's Socialist government, including Cazeneuve and President Francois Hollande, have said they will respect the Touquet agreement which, if dropped, could spur the flow of refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa through France to Britain.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper in London; and by Ingrid Melander in Paris Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)