UK

France Told To 'Get Its Act Together' Over Calais Migrant Crisis

06/09/2014 12:07 BST | Updated 06/09/2014 12:59 BST

France needs to "get its act together" and deal with growing numbers of asylum seekers in Calais rather than blaming Britain, a former home secretary has insisted.

There is rising anger at the rising number of migrants flocking to Calais which has long been used as a staging post to try to reach the shores of Britain.

But recent months have seen a big increase in their numbers and clashes have erupted between rival African migrants.

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Migrants protesting in Calais, France

The disorder and large influx, mainly from African countries including Sudan and Eritrea, have led the mayor and deputy mayor of Calais to make direct appeals for UK help.

Lord Howard of Lympne said he had "some sympathy" with the mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, amid increasingly desperate efforts by migrants to get into the UK.

But he said she was "directing her frustration and her anger at the wrong target" by demanding that London "take responsibility" and threatening to blockade the port.

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French policemen stand among migrants in Calais

The desperation of the migrants was further highlighted this week after dozens tried to storm a ferry bound for Britain.

Riot police were deployed after up to 100 people breached security and tried to run up the ramp of the cross-Channel ferry.

The migrants were foiled from getting on board the MyFerryLink-operated Berlioz vessel when the crew raised the ramp and turned a fire hose on them.

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Migrants attempt to board a UK-bound ferry

Lord Howard said the time had come for France to accept responsibility for the issue.

"The general principle which every member state of the European Union has subscribed to is that refugees, people fleeing persecution, should apply for asylum in the first safe country they reach," Lord Howard told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"France used to take this very seriously. When I was home secretary, which was quite a long time ago now, we had an agreement with France under which if people came to the UK from France and claimed asylum we returned them to France and France dealt with their claim. That is what really ought to happen."

The Tory peer said the root issue was that France had "lost control of its borders" after signing up to the Schengen agreement that "dismantled" restrictions between countries.

He added that the previous French administration under president Nicolas Sarkozy had recognised that and threatened to withdraw from Schengen - which the UK never signed up to. The agreement - which the UK never signed up to- allowed the abolition of border checks at the signatories' common borders.

"The mayor of Calais ought to be directing her frustration at president (Francois) Hollande and getting him to take the kind of action that president Sarkozy was talking about," Lord Howard said.

"We have control of our borders. But it is the countries of the Schengen agreement that ought to get their act together and deal with this problem. We have retained control of our borders, and it is about time members of the Schengen agreement did the same."

Charities working with migrants in the port have said they are being overwhelmed by the rising numbers using the town as a base to cross the channel, it has been claimed.

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French policemen expel illegal migrants from their camp

A French volunteer spoke as dozens of migrants marched through the streets of the French town on Friday in a noisy protest demanding human rights protection.

The protest in the town yesterday saw migrants waving banners, one saying "where are our human rights?" another "we are against eviction".

Calais Protest

Pascal Froehly, a volunteer at a migrants' charity clothes shop in Calais: "There was a time, two to three years ago when we served 100 people. Now we just cannot face it any longer. My assessment is that there are around 800.

"The only people who try to help them are volunteers and they are tired. They are tired elderly, unfit and they just cannot face it any longer.

"I have seen men women and children sleeping in the snow. I have seen people running on lorries. It's scandalous."

Mr Froehly said: "This is Europe. You call yourself civilised and you allow women and children to walk around unprotected on the street. It's that bad."

He appealed to Prime Minister David Cameron to offer help, adding: "We are giving in to the pressure and we cannot face it any longer. So please, if you have a heart, you English people, and I know you have a heart, there are many things you can do, organise a humanitarian camp the way it's done in others parts of the world because the situation demands such measures."

Calais Protest