For President Emmanuel Macron, the important thing is that in view of the next presidential elections, a new “jungle” of migrants like the one demolished in 2016 will not be recreated. , with sudden police blitzes denounced for months by local associations for their violence. Meanwhile, attempts to cross the Channel with the hope of reaching the United Kingdom increase under the gaze of London, which in a moment of full crisis in Franco-British relations becomes an essential partner in the management of migratory flows.
In the night between Monday and Tuesday alone, the French authorities fished out 292 people who had tried their luck on small makeshift boats, while one migrant was reported missing. A phenomenon on the rise if you look at the estimates. Prefect Philippe Dutrieux stated that in the first eight months of the year about 15,400 migrants tried the crossing, against 9,500 in 2020, 2,300 in 2019 and 600 in 2018. Numbers, but also people.
According to local authorities, 700 would be stationed between Calais and its surroundings waiting to try to reach British land on the other side of the strait; humanitarian associations, on the other hand, number 1,500 and with the arrival of winter, concern for their conditions grows. Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia, but also Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan are the countries of origin of those who want to try to reach the other side of the strait. Before the dismantling of the shanty town renamed “jungle” where about 10 thousand people lived, many risked their lives by passing through the Eurostar underground tunnel or climbing without being seen in one of the many trucks headed across the strait. But now the port has been fenced off and controls have become increasingly strict. The migrants therefore only have to try the sea route, ending up in the hands of the “passeurs” who organize the trips aboard “small boats” that are difficult to identify but also too light for such a trip.
It is for this reason that Fr Philippe Demeester, a 72-year-old Jesuit priest, began a hunger strike in mid-October together with two other activists with the aim of drawing attention to the problem and asking the government to stop the forced evacuations. An embarrassing situation for Macron, who in order to avoid the spotlight rekindling on a problem hitherto remained hidden, sent one of his emissaries to mediate with local associations: the director of the French Integration and Immigration Office Didier Leschi.
After discussing with some local representatives, Leschi announced the creation of a structure capable of accommodating 300 migrants overnight, who the following morning will be “directed to perennial centers outside Calais”. A project immediately rejected by the network of associations Human Rights Observer (Hro): “The proposal of the state consists in obliging them to expel themselves”, reads a statement.
President Macron wants to find a way out as soon as possible to avoid finding himself under the crossfire of his opponents during the debate in the upcoming presidential campaign. The tenant of the Elysée finds himself in the midst of a double problem, security and humanitarian, hitherto kept silent thanks above all to a tightening of migration policies.
According to a poll published in September by Elabe for BfmTv, the issue of immigration is the second “concern” of the French (13%) immediately after purchasing power (18%). The far right is well aware that between Marine Le Pen and the ultraconservative Eric Zemmour (ever closer to candidacy) has already begun to ride the topic.
The tenant of the Elysée must keep an eye on the situation in Calais also in order not to feed tensions with the other side of the Channel, at a time when relations between Paris and London are already strained due to fishing rights in the post-Brexit British waters. Great Britain pledged at the end of July to finance checks on the French coasts with 62.7 million euros within the next year, but at the moment not a cent has been released. The British authorities take their time and criticize the French management, accusing them of laxity and incompetence. But Paris doesn’t fit. France is an “ally of Great Britain” but not “its vassal”, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said last month, ahead of Undersecretary Damian Hinds’ promise, which guaranteed the release of the loan “in the coming weeks. “.
Macron needs British support, which is why he aims to renegotiate the Touquet agreements signed in 2003, even if it will be difficult to organize a table now, in a moment of full diplomatic crisis between the two countries. Meanwhile, the crossings continue in what according to the Figaro is turning into the “mirror of the Mediterranean”.