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UKRAINE

France accuses UK of ‘lack of humanity’ on Ukraine refugees

France on Saturday accused Britain of an inadequate response and lacking humanity in assisting Ukrainian refugees who are seeking to join family in the UK from the French Channel port of Calais.

France accuses UK of 'lack of humanity' on Ukraine refugees
France's Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin speaks to the press after a meeting with the French prefects about welcoming Ukranian fleeing their country, at the Interior Ministry at Place Beauvau in Paris, on March 1, 2022. (Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)

Hundreds of Ukrainians have come to Calais in the last days after fleeing the Russian invasion of their country hoping to join relatives already established in the UK.  

The response of the UK is “completely unsuitable” and shows a “lack of humanity” towards refugees who are often “in distress”, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said in a letter to British counterpart Priti Patel seen by AFP, urging London to set up a proper consular presence in Calais to issue visas.  

Darmanin said that in the last days 400 Ukrainian refugees have presented themselves at Calais border crossings but some 150 of them were told go go away and obtain visas at UK consulates in Paris or Brussels.  

France had said Thursday that Britain would set up a pop-up visa centre in Calais to issue visas after Britain announced a family scheme to allow immediate and extended family members of Ukrainians settled in the UK to travel there.  

“It is imperative that your consular representation, exceptionally and for the duration of this crisis, is able to issue visas for family reunification on the spot in Calais,” said Darmanin.  

He said it was “incomprehensible” that the UK was able to provide such services on the ground in Poland on the Ukrainian border but could not in the UK’s closest neighbour France.  

Darmanin’s letter to Patel comes months after a new surge in post-Brexit tensions between the two countries in the wake of the drowning in November 2021 of 27 migrants seeking to illegally cross the Channel to England in a small boat.  

The tragedy prompted both sides to exchange accusations of not doing enough to protect migrants and crack down on people traffickers who organise the dangerous crossings in small boats.  

“Our coasts have been the scene of too many human tragedies,” Darmamin told Patel, alluding to the risk that Ukrainians could seek to cross clandestinely by sea if they did not obtain visas. 

“Let’s not add to that those Ukrainian families,” he said.

SEE ALSO: How to help Ukrainians in Paris and across France

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UKRAINE

France, Germany firm up ties as European ‘driving force’

Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz and France's President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday pledged to drive Europe forward together, as the German leader visited Paris to celebrate 60 years of post-war cooperation despite recent strains.

France, Germany firm up ties as European 'driving force'

The historic partnership has been under pressure from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and broader tectonic shifts.

But in a speech at the capital’s Sorbonne University, Scholz said upholding strong ties was key for the continent.

“The future, like the past, rests on cooperation between both our countries as the driving force of a united Europe,” he said.

Macron said that “Germany and France, because they cleared the path to reconciliation, must become pioneers to relaunch Europe”.

He cited the need to “build a new energy model”, encourage “innovation and the technologies of tomorrow”, and ensure the European Union is “a geopolitical power in its own right, in defence, space and diplomacy”.

The two leaders were then to take part in a joint cabinet meeting. The personal relationship between both men has been less than warm since Scholz assumed office in late 2021.

But “there are structural problems that go further than the personal relationship”, said Jacob Ross, a researcher at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) in Berlin.

The frictions are even felt by the public, with 36 percent of French respondents and 39 percent of Germans telling pollster Ipsos this week that relations were suffering.

Support for Ukraine

The 1963 Elysee Treaty signed between post-World War II leaders Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle provided for everything from military cooperation to youth exchanges.

Since then, France and Germany have often built the foundation for joint crisis response in Europe, and other nations are looking to them again now.

Top issues to address include the Ukraine conflict, climate and energy, and European competitiveness faced with a new wave of “buy-American” subsidies in the United States.

Scholz on Sunday pledged continued support to Kyiv after Russia invaded its pro-Western neighbour almost 11 months ago.

“We will continue to provide Ukraine with all the support it needs for as long as necessary. Together, as Europeans, to defend our European peace project,” he said.

But Germany is still undecided on whether to deliver — or allow allies to deliver — its Leopard 2 battle tanks to Kyiv.

READ ALSO: Poland slams ‘unacceptable’ German stance on Leopard tanks

The impression that “there is a united coalition, and that Germany is standing in the way is wrong”, newly installed Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said Friday.

France has been pressing Germany to move faster, dashing ahead on mobile artillery in April and light tanks this month.

Elsewhere, moves to jointly develop next-generation fighter jets and tanks are dragging, while France is absent from a 14-nation Sky Shield anti-missile initiative led by Germany.

Ross suggested that part of the problem lies in France’s clinging to a historic self-image as a sovereign, nuclear-armed power with a seat on the UN Security Council — in contrast to a Germany happy to leave defence questions primarily to the US in recent decades.

There are early signs of change on both sides, with France re-energising its NATO role since the Ukraine invasion and Germany’s 100-billion ($108 billion) revamp of its armed forces.

‘Put to the test’

Away from defence, interlinked trade and energy conundrums are hitting both France and Germany.

For Berlin, “things have got very complicated because Germany’s economic and political model is being put to the test,” said Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, a former French ambassador to Berlin.

Without cheap Russian gas or nuclear power, Berlin has been forced to turn back in part to coal as renewables still cannot yet make up the difference.

France, by contrast, is scrambling to repair and replace its ageing nuclear reactor fleet.

Some in Berlin now fear China will follow Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by making a grab for Taiwan — which it sees as a breakaway province — potentially severing Germany from a vital market.

And leaders across Europe fear distortions in transatlantic trade from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which will pour billions of dollars into American-made, climate-friendly technologie.

Macron is expected to push Scholz Sunday to join a joint response, after securing backing from Spanish leader Pedro Sánchez this week.

For France and Germany in particular, there are also fundamentals that must be tended to preserve the relationship into the future.

The relationship has become less real” for ordinary French and Germans, said Gourdault-Montagne, and “lost some of its emotion”.

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