French President Emmanuel Macron visited a migrant reception center and spoke with refugees in Calais on Tuesday, taking stock of the pressure on the Channel port ahead of a summit with British Prime Minister Theresa May this week.
Calais and the surrounding Hauts-de-France region are among the poorest areas of France, with unemployment above the national average and public resources strained by an influx of migrants from Africa and the Middle East.
While the previous government bulldozed a vast tented camp, dubbed the “jungle” and once home to around 8,000 people on the outskirts of the town, in late 2016, several hundred asylum seekers, refugees and economic migrants remain in Calais and others continue to come, usually seeking to make it to Britain.
Interior minister Gerard Collomb, joining President Macron for the visit, told locals the town would “bounce back” and not be known “just for the issue of migrants and migration.” He promised more investment in reception centers and asylum processing, and emphasized that numbers were being brought down.
“There were once seven or eight thousand migrants in Calais, but now we’re talking about 400,000,” he said. “We need to have a balanced policy that combines reception and inspection.”
President Macron will meet Britain’s PM May in England on Thursday to discuss Brexit, migration and the Le Touquet accord, a 2003 treaty that effectively allows Britain to establish its border in France, and France to run its border checks in Britain.
French officials believe the accord favors Britain and has contributed to the gathering of migrants in Calais, the closest point to the UK’s shores. From Calais, many try to jump on trucks and trains going under the Channel into Britain, just 20 miles away.