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France to U.K.: Brexit Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Help Us Handle the Crisis in Calais

French President François Hollande visited Calais and said the camp will be destroyed by the end of the year, but he needs Britain's help.

TOPSHOT - Policemen stand next to migrants on shelters roof as agents dismantle shacks on March 1, 2016 in the "Jungle" migrant camp in the French northern port city of Calais.
Workers were due to start a second day of destruction in the southern half of the camp, where thousands of migrants and refugees have been living while they try to reach Britain. / AFP / PHILIPPE HUGUEN        (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Policemen stand next to migrants on shelters roof as agents dismantle shacks on March 1, 2016 in the "Jungle" migrant camp in the French northern port city of Calais. Workers were due to start a second day of destruction in the southern half of the camp, where thousands of migrants and refugees have been living while they try to reach Britain. / AFP / PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Last week, construction began on a roughly $2 million wall in the French border town of Calais. Its purpose? To block migrants and asylum-seekers living in the sprawling, makeshift camp known as “the Jungle,” from jumping on the backs of trucks as they pass through the town on their way to England.

The United Kingdom is funding the wall, but the question of what to do with the thousands of people living in Calais has found itself at the center of France’s upcoming presidential election.

And on a visit to Calais on Monday, President François Hollande insisted that just because the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union, British authorities cannot ignore “their part in the humanitarian effort that France is carrying out, and will carry out.”

“Just because the U.K. has taken a sovereign decision, it does not mean that it has absolved itself of its responsibilities toward France, but quite the opposite,” Hollande said.

Hollande’s visit to Calais was his first as president, and did not include an trip to the actual camp, where an estimated 7,000 people live in squalid conditions. Although the camp was partially destroyed in February when French authorities evacuated some of its residents and burned the makeshift homes they had built there, the area has little oversight and has since expanded again.

Residents in the town of Calais and authorities in the U.K. have been frustrated by France’s slow response to the settlement, which locals see as a security threat and which the British see as largely France’s responsibility to control. But the French have increasingly asked Britain to take a more prominent role in dealing with the flow of migrants who congregate there in hopes of reaching the United Kingdom. British officials, for their part, say that according to EU rules, those looking to seek asylum must do so in France before trying to move to Britain.

On a trip to Calais earlier this month, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is running for his party’s nomination again this year, said that “those who are here in Calais and who want to cross to England should be processed in England by the English.” Those comments implied a walk-back on Sarkozy’s earlier position: In 2003, when serving as interior minister, he signed a treaty that allowed British officials to run passport checks on French soil instead of waiting for them to cross the English Channel into Britain.

For his part, Hollande, who has not yet announced whether he plans to run for a second presidential term, said Monday he plans to have the entire camp dismantled by the end of the year. New reception centers will be set up in its place, he said, in order to better evaluate who can apply for asylum and who needs to be deported.

“From now on our objectives are clear: to guarantee the security of the people of Calais, maintain public order and ensure for the migrants and refugees conditions are dignified,” he said.

Photo credit: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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