UK

Will Brexit help Calais migrants come to the UK?

Child walks past a tent in Calais Jungle which has "UK" in a love heart written in graffiti Image copyright AFP

Calls are growing in France to end a deal that allows Britain to carry out immigration checks on the French side of the English Channel after the UK voted to leave the EU.

But if this happened, would it enable migrants in Calais to come to the UK?

"If you leave the European Union, you don't have any relationship with France - you must separate and take your border back," Hasan Amin says from the Calais "Jungle", with tents on the rocky, sandy ground behind him.

He is one of approximately 5,000 refugees and migrants living in the makeshift camp, all of whom hope to make their way across the Channel and enter the UK. Most are from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea.

They have few possessions and depend on food handouts from charities to survive, but some - like Hasan - have still been able to follow the UK's referendum and the fallout that has followed.

Image caption Hasan hopes UK immigration checks will eventually no longer be carried out in Calais

He is aware, in particular, of claims from some French politicians that UK border police - who work to prevent migrants from illegally travelling to the UK - should no longer operate in Calais.

"It would be a good thing, because we will [be able to travel to] the UK - we will go to London, Leeds, Birmingham easily," Hasan says.

Others in the camp agree with Hasan - although they are very used to changes in immigration rules, so with hope comes scepticism.


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Whether these changes should - or will - be implemented is the subject of heated debate among French politicians.

It centres on the 2003 Touquet treaty between the UK and France, which allows UK immigration checks to be used on passengers before they embark on cross-Channel services.

It has effectively moved Britain's border to northern France and has led - in part - to the establishment of the Jungle.

The treaty is not actually linked to the UK's EU membership, but since the referendum result there have been calls from some French politicians to reject the deal.

If either nation did wish to end the agreement, they could do so at any time simply by informing the other party in writing - with a two-year delay before the change could come into effect.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Migrants in Calais often try to stow themselves away on trucks heading for the UK

Hasan hopes that, were this to happen, he would be able to successfully apply for asylum in the UK.

His story is different to most in the Jungle - he fled Afghanistan to escape his father, who wanted to kill him because he had a Christian girlfriend. The scars down the left side of his torso are evidence of previous beatings.

Following the UK's decision to leave the EU, however, David Cameron has told Parliament that the UK government "supports continuing the treaty... and we'll do everything we can to persuade the French to keep to their side of the bargain and continue as we are".

'Magnet to migrants'

In the short term, France is unlikely to end the agreement as the governing Socialist Party wishes to maintain it.

Its interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, has said scrapping the deal would act as a magnet to people smugglers and migrants, whose numbers he predicts would swell "to 20,000".

Future French governments, however, may have a different viewpoint - with the next presidential election set to take place in the spring of 2017. The front runner, Alain Juppe, has said he would be in favour of ending the treaty.

Image caption Xavier Bertrand believes there is strong political support in France for ending the Touquet treaty

Xavier Bertrand, president of the Hauts-de-France region where Calais is located, first warned the UK about changes to the treaty before the referendum. He says there is support "across the centre and right" of the political spectrum to end the agreement.

It is not just politicians, however, that think the border should return to Dover.

Clare Moseley started her own charity in the Jungle, and has been there a year. She believes that ending the treaty would be one way of ensuring the UK takes in more migrants - something she favours.

"Over half of them [living in the Jungle] have family connections to the UK. Other people have other reasons [for coming to the UK] - like the soldiers who worked in Afghanistan for the British Army.

Image caption Clare Moseley worries that, if the treaty were to end, migrants could lose their lives trying to cross the Channel.

"There are millions of refugees in Europe and lots of other countries have taken lots of them in. I don't see any reason why we shouldn't."

The government has consistently rejected claims it is not doing enough to take in migrants. In September 2015, it said the UK would accept up to 20,000 refugees from Syria over the next five years.

Ms Moseley does worry, however, that if the treaty were to end, migrants could lose their lives trying to cross the Channel.

Mr Bertrand has said that, in the event of the treaty being ended, he does not envisage boats being laid on to take migrants to the UK.

Asked if this would risk the deaths of migrants trying to cross the Channel, he replies: "Let's be serious, they have journeyed thousands of miles, crossed the Mediterranean - the Channel is 20 kilometres."

This is a discussion point for the future. But the fact that the end of the treaty is being talked about so seriously may be a matter of concern to some Leave voters who hoped to see a fall in immigration.

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