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Macron set to pressure Britain over Calais migrant crisis

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French President Emmanuel Macron is set to pressure Britain to contribute more to dealing with migrants trying to cross the Channel from Calais on Tuesday as he visits the northern port which has long been a magnet for asylum seekers.

[PARIS] French President Emmanuel Macron is set to pressure Britain to contribute more to dealing with migrants trying to cross the Channel from Calais on Tuesday as he visits the northern port which has long been a magnet for asylum seekers.

The 40-year-old centrist is expected to lay out his demands for Britain, outlined by ministers in previous days, as well as defend his government's own controversial proposals to stem the flow of people into France.

At stake is a 2003 agreement between Britain and France which effectively moved the UK border onto French territory, meaning the area around Calais has become a bottleneck where migrants heading for Britain wait.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb reiterated Tuesday that France would ask Britain to take in more refugees from northern France and increase their funding - not only for security measures, but also for the development of Calais.

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"It's in their interests that things go well," Mr Collomb told the France 2 television channel on Tuesday ahead of a meeting between Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday in London.

Referring to the importance of Calais for the British economy, which faces uncertainty ahead of the country's exit from the European Union, Mr Collomb added that "a quarter of their trade transits through Calais."

The police in the port city routinely break up makeshift camps of migrants who descend on the region to try and stow away on trucks crossing the Channel to Britain, a favourite destination for Afghans and east Africans.

Hundreds of migrants are still massed in the area, over a year after the former Socialist government demolished the Jungle, a squalid makeshift camp in Calais, and moved its more than 7,000 occupants to shelters nationwide.

As a candidate ahead of this election in May, Mr Macron had consistently said that he intended to renegotiate the 2003 border agreement with Britain, known as the Le Touquet accord.

Domestic reform

He will also use Tuesday's visit to defend his government's uncompromising attitude ahead of a new immigration law that will seek to clamp down on illegal migration while opening up legal avenues for asylum seekers.

France received a record 100,000 asylum claims last year, making it one of Europe's top destinations.

Mr Macron has promised to speed up waiting times for asylum applications while also stepping up expulsions of those who remain in France after being turned down for refugee status - an approach he touts as mixing "efficiency" and "humanity".

NGOs, trade unions and left-wing parties take a different view, often accusing him of wielding an iron fist in a velvet glove.

In December, Mr Collomb further raised the hackles of migrant support groups by ordering ID checks in emergency shelters, sparking fears of a witchhunt against failed asylum seekers.

Two NGOs on the frontlines of the crisis in Calais refused an invitation to meet with Mr Macron on Tuesday due to repressive measures used by the French police around Calais to stop migrants setting up camps there.

Francois Guennoc of the Auberge des Migrants charity said he did not want to act "merely as an alibi for a strategy that is already well established".

Auberge des Migrants and another Catholic association filed a criminal complaint on Monday over security forces allegedly destroying the belongings of migrants in the area.

On Tuesday, Mr Macron will meet migrants in Calais and NGOs working with them, as well as with local officials, residents and security force members calling for tougher laws to prevent the emergence of another Jungle.

Natacha Bouchart, the right-wing mayor of Calais, told BFM television on Monday that the local population was "tired" of the situation and expected a lot from the president's visit.

AFP

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