The EU has handed France £3.6 million to build a better camp for migrants attempting to cross to Britain.
The five million euro of funding will help create improved facilities for around 1,500 of those clustered at the makeshift Calais site dubbed The Jungle.
In total, some 5,000 are said to be living in squalid conditions at the existing camp.
But the move, announced by European Commission vice- president Frans Timmermans during a visit to Calais, is likely to prove controversial.
It comes after an extraordinary meeting of EU justice and home affairs ministers was called for two weeks’ time in Brussels to discuss migration.
In a statement, Luxembourg - which holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council - said the issues had recently taken on “unprecedented proportions”.
“In order to assess the situation on the ground, the political actions under way and to discuss the next steps in order to strengthen the European response, the Luxembourg minister for immigration and asylum Jean Asselborn decided to convene an extraordinary Council,” the statement added.
In a joint statement with counterparts from Paris and Berlin earlier, Home Secretary Theresa May suggested reception centres were needed at key arrival points and a list of “safe” countries should be agreed to speed up asylum decisions.
Meanwhile, Austria stepped up vehicle inspections yesterday at its Hungarian border after 71 migrants apparently suffocated in a truck, creating a huge traffic jam on the main Budapest-Vienna highway. Traffic appeared to be flowing fairly smoothly by late afternoon and Austrian Interior Ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck said they would continue to conduct “spot checks” of vehicles at all main border crossings.
At Budapest’s Keleti train terminal, meanwhile, hundreds of migrants, many saying they were from Syria, were boarding trains heading west to Austria and Germany, without apparent police intervention.
In past months, Hungarian police, sometimes acting with colleagues from Germany and Austria, often removed migrants without the necessary travel documents from the trains.
Yesterday, there were long lines of migrants at the terminal’s ticket windows. Two of the express trains that left Budapest, however, were stranded on the Austro-Hungarian border after Austrian Federal Railways refused to allow them to proceed into Austria, citing “overcrowding.” Austrian police spokesman Roman Hahslinger said some of those on the trains subsequently disembarked and continued into Austria with regional trains.
Greece, Italy and other border countries are struggling to cope with record numbers of new arrivals, many seeking refuge from the conflict in Syria, with a surge over the summer taking the year’s total to beyond 340,000.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed fellow European nations to share the burden of migrants, arguing the European Union will betray its values if it fails to get a grip on the crisis.
Germany has taken more asylum-seekers than any other EU country and is one of only a handful of nations that has accepted significant numbers.