Britain must honour its agreement to bring hundreds of unaccompanied child refugees to Britain, having “dragged its feet”, a senior MP said, as France urges Britain to do more to deal with migrants living rough in Calais.
Emmanuel Macron is urging Theresa May to take in more migrants from among those who have gathered around the Calais camp, as they meet to discuss the Le Touquet Treaty, a British-French agreement that allows both countries to operate border control in the other.
As Macron visits Britain today, France is also reportedly urging the creation of a joint task force to process asylum applications, as well as pay more towards security at the port.
It comes after criticism of the British Government for taking too few migrants with processes that are too slow and leave many with no hope but to continue to try to reach the UK illegally.
Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the influential Home Affairs Select Committee, told HuffPost UK that the Government had “dragged its feet” on resettling children under the Dubs Amendment, which initially proposed taking 3,000 in but the Government then said only 350 could come, a figure it later increased to 480.
“Action in Calais alone isn’t enough,” Cooper said.
“Britain and France should be working with Italy and Greece to help vulnerable children and refugees with family in the UK before they start travelling across Europe or get caught up in illegal routes.
“That means the British Government should properly be using the Dubs scheme which still has over 200 local authority vacancies for child and teenage refugees because the Government has dragged its feet.”
Of the 480 places for child migrants to come to Britain, “over 200” have been filled, the Home Office said in December.
Cooper, who previously chaired a refugee task force for Labour, said British-French cooperation on tackling smuggling gangs had deteriorated after a concerted effort 18 months ago.
“The problem has grown again, with people gathering in dangerous conditions in Calais once more and vulnerable children and teenagers again at risk of exploitation. Investment and renewed cooperation is important but this time it must be sustained,” she said.
“We need action on border security and to tackle criminal gangs alongside safe routes to sanctuary for refugees especially children to prevent people ending up in Calais in the first place.”
Thousands of migrants and refugees used to live in the make-shift Jungle camp near the port, which police demolished in October 2016.
But hundreds still live there and risk their lives with attempts to enter Britain illegally by stowing away on lorries crossing the channel.
A 15-year-old Afghan boy, Abdullah Dilsouz, was run over and killed by a truck on December 22, as he tried to reach his brother in London.
Annie Gavrilescu, the regional manager for charity Help Refugees in Calais, told HuffPost they had notified French authorities about Dilsouz’s connection to the UK but authorities did nothing, preventing him from pursuing a legal route to Britain.
“If that is a sign of things to come, I don’t know how we’re going to manage,” she said.
The Dublin Regulation allows an asylum seeker in one EU country to have their application picked up by another if they have family there.
Gavrilescu said it took nine months on average for an application under the Dublin Regulation to be processed, from the identifying their claim to be being transferred.
She added that £160 million was spent on security in Calais since the Jungle was demolished in October 2016.
She said: “We really, really wish at least a portion of that money were used to protect vulnerable people.”
May has announced an extra £44.5m for channel border security at Calais and other ports, which is to be spent on fencing, CCTV and infrared detection technology.
With no more camp, those in Calais sleep rough in the woods. Help Refugees gives out supplies including tents but French police routinely confiscate these, Gavrilescu said.
In October, the Refugee Rights Data Project report said police violence against migrants in Calais had become “excessive and life-threatening”, a year after the Jungle was demolished.
One Eritrean 17-year-old girl was picked up by police, driven to a remote location and left. It took her three hours to walk back, the report said.
Dr Lisa Doyle, director of advocacy at The Refugee Council, said the process for reuniting migrants with family in Britain had to be sped up and simplified.
She added: “The Government needs to pay much more attention to establishing safe and regular routes for people to reach safety and their loved ones in the UK.
“This includes widening the definition of family members eligible to reunite under Refugee Family Reunion rules which will mean that people are not forced to risk their lives in order to reach safety.”
A Government spokesperson said Macron was “right when he said earlier this week that those people already in France and in need of asylum should seek help there”.
“Attempting to cross the Channel illegally is dangerous and not a journey which people should try to make,” they said.
“We have given hundreds of millions in aid and are resettling children and vulnerable people from refugee camps in countries closest to Syria to ensure those most in need get the right help, without encouraging people to make the incredibly dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.
“And we are committed to resettling 480 children from Europe under the Dubs amendment.”
MEP Molly Scott Cato, the Green Party’s Brexit spokesperson, tweeted that changes to the Le Touquet treaty were raised as a possible fall out from Brexit during the referendum campaign.
“Brexiteers said this was project fear. Here it is becoming Brexit Reality,” she tweeted.
As finance minister two years ago, Macron suggested France might withdraw from Le Touquet to return to British border controls to Dover if Britain voted for Brexit.
But a French presidential aide told Politico he was now only seeking “improvements” to the deal.