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UK’s ‘bizarre’ £44.5m security pledge to France disregards vulnerable child migrants

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron visit the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, near Camberley, England, Thursday, ahead of the UK-France summit talks. (AP)
LONDON: Theresa May’s promise to beef up border security in Calais with a £44.5 million cash injection during a UK-French summit on Thursday would be better spent creating safe, legal channels for migrants stranded at the border, refugee organizations said.
The UK Prime Minister committed £44.5 million, on top of the £100 million believed to have been spent so far on security in the area, toward fencing, CCTV cameras and infrared detection technology at Calais and other ports along the Channel.
Speaking during a press conference following private talks at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, May said the UK and France share a “comprehensive approach to mass migration” and confirmed their continued committed to the 2003 Le Touquet agreement, which prevents people from entering the UK at the Calais border and allows the two countries to station immigration officials on each other’s soil.
“The Calais issue has been a thorn in the side for both governments for 15 years or so now and both countries have an interest in managing it, so it’s not surprising to see this continued back and forth,” said Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London, and a senior fellow of the UK in a Changing Europe program.
The two premiers were keen to convey the enduring strength of Anglo-French relations in the face of Britain’s impending departure from the EU. Macron made a point of saying ahead of the summit that France would “look with kindness” on any UK decision to reverse Brexit.
“To some extent the prospect of Brexit does arguably slightly weaken the UK’s negotiating position…so the French are exacting another price for their assistance in this,” Portes said.
Aid groups operating in northern France, where up to 100 children are thought to be sleeping rough, highlighted the UK’s failure to follow through on existing commitments and questioned the allocation of further funds to security forces in France.
“It’s bizarre that this money is going once again into security and not into protecting vulnerable people,” said Annie Gavrilescu, France Regional Manager for Help Refugees UK.
“Right now this money is paying for an abusive police force that’s using tear gas and being very violent toward refugees.”
The Refugee Rights Data Project published findings in October 2017 saying that French police “use beatings, tear gas and confiscation” against refugees in Calais. This followed a Human Rights Watch report in July entitled “‘Like Living in Hell’: Police Abuses Against Child and Adult Migrants in Calais,” which said French authorities were turning a blind eye to widespread reports of abuse.
Speaking ahead of the summit Gavrilescu said the “ridiculous amount” spent so far by the UK government on security in Calais would be put to better use by providing safe channels for child migrants with legitimate asylum claims.
“Accessing that procedure is nigh on impossible because of bureaucratic blockages. If this money was actually used to increase the capacity to deal with these cases then people wouldn’t have to gather in Calais and they would take legal and safe routes into the UK.”
“It would literally save lives.”
The UK government has been heavily criticized for agreeing to accept only 480 unaccompanied minors instead of the 3,000 calculated to be the country’s fair share under the “Dubs scheme.”
A 15-year-old boy killed last month became the fifth child to die at the Calais border in two years with the legal right to be in the UK with their families.
Children going through the proper legal channels to process their claims are effectively “penalized for following the rules,” said Charlotte Morris, a spokesperson at Safe Passage, which works primarily with unaccompanied child refugees.
One child in the organization’s care has been waiting for over 10 months for his papers to arrive so he can join family members in the UK. “If he just jumped on the back of a lorry he’d be there the next day. We keep telling him to wait but the Home Office keeps delaying his case.”
“There’s no incentive for those kids not to take the unsafe, illegal route, smuggling themselves in to reach their relatives,” Morris said.
Macron has accused some aid organizations of encouraging refugees to enter the UK illegally and exaggerating claims of police brutality toward migrants around Calais.
Between 700 and 1,000 migrants are still stranded around Calais, despite the refugee camp known as the “Jungle” being dismantled in 2016.
“Until there are proper safe legal routes, children are going to continue to risk their lives trying to take illegal routes,” Morris said.
Speaking on the BBC’s Today program prior to the summit, Ed Llewellyn, UK ambassador to Paris said the border was now “one of the most secure in Europe.”