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France offers right to asylum to protesting Syrian refugees

Sixty Syrians attempting to enter Britain via France offered legal status on French territory, yet 'still set' on reaching UK

AFP , Friday 4 Oct 2013
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France on Friday offered some 60 Syrians the right to seek asylum after the refugees occupied a key point in the Channel port of Calais in a desperate bid to get to Britain.

A three-member team from Britain's border police was meanwhile on its way to Calais to hold discussions with the refugees, said Denis Robin, the prefect of the Pas-de-Calais region.

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

They have voiced disappointment in France, saying they were treated worse than "animals."

"I have been in contact with the Border Force. They are coming from Britain by train," Robin said.

"The immigrants want to hold discussions with the British authorities."

Myrian Guerey, a member of the Secours Catholic charity service who served as a mediator between the refugees and the French authorities, said the Syrians – still set on making it to Britain – were "very happy" about the talks.

"They have been heard and they want to have a first contact with the British authorities," she said.

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

Pas-de-Calais prefect 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," Robin told reporters.

He said each demand for asylum had "95 percent chance of success," adding that he was in contact with the British embassy in Paris.

"We cannot take any decision on their access to Britain," Robin said. "I am not persuading them to settle in France but trying to legalise their status."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius 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, a 19-year-old from the southern city of Deraa near the border with Jordan.

"But we live outside like dogs, hunted down by the police, we see we are not welcome, how can we seek asylum here?" he said.

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

Ali, a 38-year-old, said although French President Francois Hollande had taken a strong stand against the regime of President 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 $13,000 (9,500 euros) to come to a country where the "president said 'we must help Syrians'."

"Here even animals are better treated than us," he said.

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

France has had only 850 registered demands for asylum from Syrians since the start of this year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said late last month.

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