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France, Britain sign security pact to tackle Calais refugee crisis

Security deal lacks comprehensive framework to address humanitarian crisis in Calais, critics say

France and Britain announced new security measures on Thursday to tackle human trafficking from the Calais refugee camps, beefing up the sites with new cameras and fences. But critics say the deal lacks a comprehensive humanitarian framework to help people resettle and improve living conditions at the camps.

The agreement, announced by French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and British Home Secretary Theresa May, involves the creation of a $10 million joint command center to combat trafficking. The ministers also agreed to add extra surveillance cameras, sniffer-dog teams and fences to tighten security on the French side of the Eurotunnel, which hundreds of people attempt to enter each day as the last dangerous segment of the journey to Britain. The investment follows a pledge of $25 million to improve security at Calais, the tunnel's French entry, according to French newspaper Le Monde.

Only July 28 some 2,300 people disrupted traffic when they entered the tunnel to jump on trains and trucks in an effort to reach Britain. During the mass crossing attempt, a Sudanese man in his mid-20s died after being crushed by a truck. The day before, an Egyptian man was electrocuted at the Gard du Nord in Paris when he leaped on the roof of a Eurostar train headed to London.

More than 3,000 people live in one Calais camp, known as "The Jungle," where slum-like conditions have alarmed aid groups who set up medical emergency checkpoints. Most people in the camp are fleeing war zones in Syria and Afghanistan, according to the United Nations. Many don’t want to stay in France and prefer traveling to Britain to join relatives and find work.

Aid groups say the French and British governments need to do more to address the root causes of the refugee crisis in Calais and facilitate resettlement of asylum seekers. Many asylum applicants are forced to wait for years before their claims are processed by the French government. While it’s important to improve people’s security in Calais, said Leonard Doyle, spokesman at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), it’s equally important to protect their rights.

“Any deal that brings about a safer situation in Calais needs to be supported. It’s dangerous for people to be jumping out of trucks and out of trains,” he said. “But the EU needs to take a more realistic view on the problem, so we don’t have that bottleneck.”

Those concerns are echoed by Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, who on Thursday said any effort to combat trafficking needed to be paired with a comprehensive legal framework that helped refugees request asylum in one of Europe's 28 member states. Under the Schengen Agreement — a legal framework on immigration to the bloc every refugee is required to request asylum in the country of entry, putting unfair pressure on border states such as Greece, Italy, and Spain.

"It is important to note that to be effective in cracking down on smugglers and traffickers, we must increase the number of legal avenues for people in need of protection to come to Europe," Guterres said in response to the deal announced Thursday. 

A proposal by the European Commission to introduce quotas that would force nations to take in refugees in accordance with their economic ability and size failed to garner enough support in June, with just 10 countries of 26 voicing approval. A relocation plan would distribute the burden more equitably, proponents say, and alleviate some of the pressures for southern border nations and Germany, where a record 750,000 are projected to request asylum this year, Agence France-Presse reported Thursday.

In July, a record 107,500 refugees crossed European borders, according to the EU border patrol agency Frontex.

The refugee crisis has stirred up old rifts between France and Britain, which blames France for not doing more to stop people from entering the Eurotunnel. France says British labor laws are too lenient to effectively discourage refugees from finding work. Divisions on immigration policy between member states run deep, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel warning that the refugee crisis could pose a bigger threat to the EU than financial turmoil in Greece.

The mass influx of refugees has put unprecedented pressure on Calais, where shelters are unable to accommodate more people. Newly arrived migrants face a waiting period of about three to six months to be housed, Pierre Henry, president of France Terre d’Asile, a French advocacy organization, told Le Monde. A shelter near the site housing 100 women and children is unable to take in new residents, and medical charities have stepped up to provide basic care on-site.

“We’re sick of making up for the responsibilities of the state,” Jean-Francois Corty, of Medecins du Monde told the paper. “I’m waiting to pull my teams from this slum where we’re doing emergency medicine that should not exist in France.”

With wire services

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