Macron was in Calais Tuesday in an attempt to defend a new immigration law that aims to crack down on illegal immigration, but at the same time opening legal possibilities for asylum seekers.
In a closely-watched speech in Calais, Macron promised a more orderly immigration policy with zero tolerance for camps like the Jungle, the squalid shantytown near the northern city's port that was once home to some 10,000 migrants dreaming of Britain.
"There will be no reconstruction of the Jungle and no tolerance for the illegal occupation of public space," Macron said in a speech at a police station in the port city.
While the Jungle was demolished in late 2016, hundreds of migrants remain in Calais, trying night after night to stow away on trucks heading across the Channel to England.
France's Migration Problem
Last year, France received over 100.000 asylum requests with many refugees heading straight to Calais, hoping to cross over to the UK. But critics say the new measures won’t change much.
Macron’s visit was primarily political, but it had two aims: the first is to appease the the people of Calais, the second to relook at the relationship between France and the UK over migration.
There is a long history of discontent in Calais. Firstly, there was the Sangatte refugee camp, not far from Calais. After that was closed down there was a new problem with the so-called Jungle, a large shanty town of make-shift tents where refugees went after the Sangatte camp closed.
“The Treaty of Touquet has to be re-negotiated,” Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart, told French television. “We cannot satisfy ourselves with a British government that just helps us to keep its own security. They have to give economic compensation to the city of Calais and to its projects.
The Le Tourquet Agreement was signed in February 2003 by then French Minister of Interior Nicolas Sarkozy and his British counterpart David Blunkett.
It allows the UK and France to operate their border controls in the other country. In practice it meant that British border police could work at Calais sea terminals and along the Euro tunnel. It is a bi-lateral treaty, so it won’t be affected by an eventual Brexit.
France claims it prevented thousands of immigrants per year from going into the UK, and they were helped by the British police. Macron may be asking British Prime Minister Theresa May to chip in some more than they do now by just paying their police force present in France.
“The statement he gave is highly political,” says Marine de Haas of CIMADE, an organization that works with asylum seekers in the Calais region.
“He is going to meet Theresa May in two days’ time. He could use the fact that during almost 15 or 20 years France is controlling immigration for the UK, and had agreed that the UK authorities do the control themselves on French soil. They can really use this issue to scare the UK authorities and to say that the UK has to pay more money to make sure that immigrants don’t come to the UK,” she says.
Meanwhile, there is a new French migration law on the way - the 'loi Collomb” after the Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, which is upcoming.
Migration law problems
But organizations working with immigrants have rejected it as inhumane. Twenty groups, including Emmaüs, Secours Catholique, Médecins Sans Frontières and the Abbé-Pierre Foundation have protested strongly against the law.
“The most striking reform issue would be that right now the French authorities can put a migrant in detention for 45 days,” says Marine de Haas of CIMADE.
“And this will become 105 days of detention, so it is more than doubled, and it is a very worrying point for us because we know that people are suffering a lot of trauma in detention centers, and we know that they are deported back in their first days of detention so for us it is just populism to have this kind of reforms.”
Collomb pointed out that the numbers of places in centers where asylum seekers wait till their requests are processed will be increased with 200 per region, a total of 2600 in the whole of France.
But critics have called the proposals “unbalanced. “It is a lot of empty talk,” says Olivier Brachet, a judge who specializes on asylum cases.
“The policy of Macron belongs to the world of yesterday, not to the world of today. “It is very traditional. Yes to political asylum, no to economic migration.
“Prime ministers and presidents say that already for thirty years. That is not where the problem lies. The problem is sending back irregular migrants to their country. There are no bilateral solutions. In fact, there are only European solutions. Because individual countries are not going to lift a finger by saying, ok, we agree, we’ll take them.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday in Calais, Macron said that he won’t allow another so-called “Jungle” with migrants to spring up in the port city.
But hundreds of people continue to camp out in Calais, hoping to somehow make it to the UK.
And it remains to be seen how French and also British border police are going to deal with them when the law will become stricter than it already is.