PARIS (Reuters) - Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is attempting a political comeback before next year’s election, said on Saturday that Britain should open an asylum centre on its territory to deal with asylum seekers now camped in Calais.
Migrants aiming to reach Britain have over the years gathered in camps called the “jungle” in the French port of Calais.
In the past two years, the population of the camps has swelled as warfare and economic upheaval in North Africa and the Middle East has driven thousands of migrants to try to reach Britain illegally through the Channel Tunnel.
“I’m demanding the opening of a centre in Britain to deal with asylum seekers in Britain so that Britain can do the work that concerns them,” Nicolas Sarkozy told a political rally in Touquet in northern France.
Sarkozy said Britain should manage the asylum process, accepting those it wants on British territory and organising charters to remove those who are rejected.
“The jungle should not be in Calais or anywhere else, because this is a republic and those with no rights to be here should return to their country,” Sarkozy said.
Sarkozy was speaking in Touquet, where in 2003, France signed a symbolic border treaty with Britain. Under Le Touquet accord, British officials can check passports in France and vice versa.
However, that has led to the migrants trying to reach British shores congregating at Calais. Images of hundreds of people trying to leap onto trucks bound for Britain has roused anti-immigration worries on both sides of the English Channel.
That was a key issue in Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, and it has become a hot-button issue ahead of France’s April 2017 election.
Sarkozy’s conservative rival Alain Juppe, who opened his presidential bid on Saturday and is considered the frontrunner in the party’s presidential primaries, has called on the Touquet accord to be renegotiated.
Reporting by Bate Felix and Ingrid Melander, editing by Larry King