Rejected by UK, ‘desperate’ Syrian refugees stranded in France

The 60 asylum seekers say they were disappointed by France after being treated worse than “animals”.

Syrian migrants willing block a gangway leading to the ferry terminal in Calais, France. AFP
Powered by automated translation

CALAIS, FRANCE // A team of British border police yesterday ruled out a group entry for about 60 Syrian asylum seekers blocking a gangway at a ferry terminal in the French port of Calais.

The three-member team of the Border Force held talks with the refugees, who were desperately trying to get to Britain.

But the officials said they could only examine on a case-by-case basis the requests of those who already had family in Britain, according to Denis Robin, the top government official for France’s northern Pas-de-Calais region.

Mr Robin said the British officials indicated that the entry of the entire group “without any checks or examinations of the different cases” was out of the question.

The decision cast a pall of gloom over the refugees. Two men joined two others already perched on a port building and threatened to jump, but all four came down.

The talks also drew in officials from the Medecins du Monde and Secours Catholique charities as well as the top government official for the Pas-de-Calais region.

The mayor of Calais, a Channel port from where many ships and ferries leave for Britain, said the protest highlighted the need for a concerted European strategy.

“It’s for the government to take up its responsibilities,” said Natacha Bouchart.

“There also has to be an awareness on a European level and the British must make a decision,” she said.

“It’s unacceptable that it is in France and at Calais that one has to control immigration.”

The Syrians, 20 of whom are on a hunger strike, have occupied the footbridge of a ferry terminal at Calais port since Wednesday to press London to accept them.

They they said they were disappointed by France after being treated worse than “animals”.

In a bid to end the crisis, 50 police from the CRS anti-riot squad moved in yesterday to try to clear the refugees from the footbridge. They backed off when two of the refugees climbed on to a nearby building and threatened to jump off if they approached.

Mr Robin then went to the site and offered the Syrians, currently illegal immigrants, the right to asylum.

“Today, the Syrians present here are caught in a stalemate. What we can do is to offer them a status on French territory – in other words, to make a request for asylum.”

Mr Robin said each demand for asylum had “95 per cent chance of success”.

“I am not persuading them to settle in France, but rather trying to legalise their status,” he said.

Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, has pledged to fast-track the applications of Syrians seeking asylum.

But the protesting refugees, most of whom arrived a month ago in Calais, have voiced disappointment at the way they were treated in France.

“We thought that France was the country where human rights are respected,” said Tarik, 19, who is from the southern city of Deraa.

“But we live outside like dogs, hunted down by the police. We see we are not welcome – how can we seek asylum here?”

The former engineering student said he was convinced he would find “more humanity” in Britain.

Ali, 38, said although the French president, Francois Hollande, had taken a strong stand against the regime of Bashar Al Assad for using chemical weapons, the French were not welcoming at all.

“Why does the president say one thing and the police another?” Ali said, adding that he had spent €9,500 (Dh47,400) to come to a country where the “president said: ‘we must help Syrians’”.

“Here even animals are better treated than us.”

The UN refugee agency has said 17 countries, including France, have agreed to receive quotas of refugees fleeing the war in Syria.

France has had only 850 registered demands for asylum from Syrians since the start of this year.

* Agence France-Presse