By Hajer M'tiri
France’s president on Tuesday visited the northern port of Calais, a transit hub for refugees and migrants trying to reach Britain, amid controversy over his government's tough new immigration and asylum policy.
Emmanuel Macron visited a migrant reception center in the city and chatted with some Sudanese refugees as well as residents and local authorities who are calling for more measures to prevent another large camp from emerging.
Calais was the main transit point for migrants and refugees trying to reach the U.K. until French authorities dismantled the so-called Jungle camp in October 2016, once home to up to 7,000 people.
According to Human Rights Watch, 600 to 700 asylum seekers and migrants, including 100 to 150 unaccompanied children, still live outdoors "in increasingly desperate conditions."
Addressing city police officials, the French leader said "under no circumstances will we allow a new 'Jungle' or any concentration camp" in Calais.
Speaking to police of the city of Pas-de-Calais, he added that "everything is being done" to stop "illegal" passage through Calais, which "is not a stolen gateway to England," insisting that the state would not allow the building of "illegal channels" in this region.
Macron's visit was sanctioned by some groups working with refugees and migrants in protest of strict measures used by the French police against migrants.
He denounced "approximations," "lies," and "manipulations" by critics of the police, saying police officers do "remarkable but little-recognized work."
Britain and the migrant burden
The French government is drafting a new migrant policy, to be unveiled next month, which includes speeding up the application process for asylum-seekers and faster removal of those who fail to be accepted.
France received a record high of 100,000 asylum application in 2017, making it one of Europe's main destinations for migrants and refugees fleeing poverty and conflicts.
The deportation of foreigners in an irregular situation also rose 14.6 percent in 2017, according to a report published Tuesday by the Directorate General of Foreigners in France (DGEF).
The French leader will travel on Thursday to southern England for a French-British summit where he is expected to demand that Britain do more to ease the migrant burden.
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told Le Parisien newspaper on Sunday he would push for changes to the 2003 Le Touquet accords allowing British immigration checks to be established on French soil.