CALAIS, France: A team of British border police Friday ruled out a group entry for some 60 Syrian asylum seekers blocking a gangway at a ferry terminal in the French port of Calais.
The three-member team of the Border Force held talks with the refugees, who are desperately trying to get to Britain. But the British officials said they could only examine on a case-by-case basis the requests of those who already had family in Britain, according to Denis Robin, the top government official for France’s northern Pas-de-Calais region.
The negotiations included two representatives for the refugees, 60 of whom have blockaded the terminal since Wednesday.
Robin said the British officials indicated that the entry of the group “without any checks or examinations of the different cases” was out of the question.
“However, the representatives of the Border Force said that they are open to examining on a case-by-case basis if there are Syrian nationals with family on British territory.”
His statements sent a wave of gloom among the refugees. Two men joined two others already perched on a port building and threatened to jump but all four later came down.
The talks also drew in officials from the Medecins du Monde and Secours Catholique charities as well as the top government official for the Pas-de- Calais region.
The mayor of Calais, a Channel port from where many ships and ferries leave for Britain, said the protest highlighted the need for a concerted European strategy. “It’s unacceptable that it is in France and at Calais that one has to control immigration.”
The protest, which has seen 20 people go on hunger strike, prompted French authorities to offer to legalize the refugees’ status.
Some 50 police from the CRS anti-riot squad moved in early Friday to try and clear the protesters from the footbridge but backed off when two of them climbed on top of a port building and threatened to jump off.
Pas-de- Calais prefect Robin then went to the site and offered the 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,” he told reporters.
He said every asylum demand had a “95 percent chance of success.”
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has pledged to fast-track the applications of Syrians seeking asylum.
But the protesting refugees, most of whom arrived in Calais a month ago, 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.
The refugees had affixed cardboard signs reading “Take us to the U.K.,” and “We want to talk to David Cameron.”
“But we live outside like dogs, hunted down by the police, we see we are not welcome, how can we seek asylum here?” Tarik said.
Ali, a 38-year-old, said although French President Francois Hollande had taken a strong stand against the regime of President Bashar 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 to come to a country where the “president said ‘we must help Syrians.’”
“Here even animals are better treated than us,” he said.