May in Calais border control talks

British Home Secretary Theresa May was holding talks with her French counterpart in Calais, northern France, Monday as she inspects the cross-Channel border controls, officials said.

May was meeting French interior minister Claude Gueant as they examine the security of the port and tunnel ahead of next year’s Olympic Games in London.
It will be the first time a French interior minister has visited the Calais border operations since Nicolas Sarkozy, now president, vowed to close the Red Cross’s controversial Sangatte refugee camp when he visited in 2002.
The visit comes the week after MPs accused the UK Border Agency (UKBA) of creating an amnesty for asylum seekers in an immigration system which is „not fit for purpose“, commentators noted.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands by 2015 but figures released last week showed it hit 242, 000 at the end of last year – its highest level in more than five years.
Immigration and the measures being taken to secure the UK’s border will be central to today’s talks amid concerns that tens of thousands of migrants fleeing the turmoil in north Africa may head to Calais’s ports to try to make their way to Britain.
Under the Schengen Agreement, citizens in 25 mainland European Union (EU) nations are allowed to travel across borders without having their passports checked.
But the deal is under threat as tensions have risen over the fleeing migrants after Italy handed more than 25,000 Tunisians temporary permits to travel, effectively giving them unobstructed travel around the 25 EU nations.
The UK and Ireland are not part of the agreement.
Last week, MPs on the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee warned that public confidence in immigration controls was being undermined by the UKBA’s failures.
The agency looked set to achieve its target of clearing the historic backlog of 450,000 cases by this summer „largely through increasing resort to grants of permission to stay“, the committee’s report found.
Asylum seekers in some 74,500 cases have disappeared without a trace, with officials admitting they have no idea whether they are still in the UK, have left or even died.
Four out of 10 of the cases that have been concluded led to the asylum seeker being allowed to stay in the UK.
Keith Vaz, the committee chairman, said a change in official guidance which allowed tens of thousands of migrants to stay „amounts in effect to an amnesty“, adding that it was clear the agency was „still not fit for purpose“.
„We consider this indefensible,“ he said.
But Immigration Minister Damian Green denied the claims, saying the Government was overhauling the „chaotic and uncontrolled“ regime left by the previous government.
A separate critical report last month also found the UKBA lacked the information needed to manage immigration effectively.
The UKBA, hampered by a lack of exit controls, failed to monitor migrants‘ rights to remain in the UK and to make sure they leave when they are supposed to, the Commons Committee of Public Accounts (Pac) said.
Some 181,000 people who should have left may still be in the UK, the agency estimates, but „it does not have the right information to know if this is an accurate estimate“, the MPs said.