Migrant centre plan stirs fears of new Sangatte
By Henry Samuel in Paris
Last Updated: 2:02am BST 05/09/2007
A reception centre similar to the notorious Sangatte camp could be built on the northern coast of France, after the mayor of Cherbourg called for a “welcome” facility for immigrants.
Bernard Cazeneuve yesterday urged the French government to build an official centre to replace a shanty town that has become home to a growing number of migrants, despite repeated attempts to deport or relocate them.
Many living in the makeshift camp in the centre of Cherbourg have attempted illegal trips to Britain, boarding lorries and ferry services bound for the south coast.
Mr Cazeneuve told the regional daily Ouest France that the camp should be torn down, saying that it “generates violence around the port and creates a situation which we are not able to control”. The new centre should be “away from the port area, a long way from the ferries”, he added.
Nevertheless, the call will raise concerns of another Sangatte, the Red Cross centre near the entrance of the Channel Tunnel near Calais, which attracted 67,000 immigrants before being closed in 2002 in a deal with the Home Office.
Mr Cazeneuve said at the time of its closure that he feared his town could become the “new Sangatte”.
As in Calais, where there have been similar calls for a welcome centre that offers migrants basic hygiene – but not sleeping – facilities, there are fears that any permanent centre could act as a magnet for would-be asylum seekers.
From Cherbourg there are daily ferry and freight services to British ports including Portsmouth, Poole and Southampton.
In January, Mr Cazeneuve, a socialist, closed down a squat of around 50 Iraqis, Syrians and Afghans based in municipal buildings. Last November, a group of 30 were sent to a centre in Toulouse.
However dozens more returned. Migrants regularly cut or pull down fences surrounding the port to try to jump onto ferries, while others try to board lorries secretly as they slow down on arrival at the port.
The 65 French frontier police currently guarding the port are hard-pushed to catch stowaways. In one operation last month they arrested 21 migrants, including Iraqis, Syrians and Iranians as they tried to enter Britain.
Groups of migrants can be seen wandering about town. The majority are young men aged from 16 to 25, but also women and children.
Sir Andrew Green, the chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: “This reeks of another Sangatte. Clearly, this country is still regarded as a soft touch and until we toughen up our asylum system, thousands will continue to try to get into Britain rather than claim asylum in France, which is a perfectly safe country.”
David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: “The Government claimed to have reached an agreement with the French authorities to solve issues like this, and now we see it happening again.
“The Home Secretary must speak to her French counterpart and explain that another Sangatte would be completely unacceptable.”