Cherbourg outcry over British-bound migrants
By Peter Allen in Cherbourg
Last Updated: 2:39am BST 07/09/2007
Up to 160 migrants a night are attempting to jump on British-bound lorries in Cherbourg, it has emerged.
The figures were revealed by the management of the northern French ferry port, who say urgent action is needed.
“Last night we again had between 150 and 160 attempting to break into the port area to try and get to England,” said Serge Henry, director of the Cherbourg port authority.
“It's like this every night.”
Although police guarding the port area are stretched to the limit, almost 300 people are still arrested each week.
“There were 279 arrests of illegal immigrants in the port last week alone, and 275 the week before,” said Mr Henry.
The figures were released after a “welcome centre” similar to the notorious Sangatte refugee camp was proposed to provide food and shelter for the increasing numbers trying to reach England on the daily ferry and freight services to Portsmouth, Poole and Southampton.
Sangatte, located near the entrance of the Channel Tunnel in Calais, attracted 67,000 immigrants before being closed in 2002.
Didier Omont, of the chamber of trade in Cherbourg, said about 1 million was needed for surveillance cameras and increased patrols to make the port secure.
“The trouble never seems to end,” said Mr Omont, who said the kind of welcome centre proposed this week by the mayor of Cherbourg, Bernard Cazeneuve, would at least ensure the migrants remained in one place where they could be policed properly.
Many of those preparing their journeys to Britain are currently living in makeshift camps dotted around the town.
On one site yesterday, home to some 20 shelters, about 70 men aged between 18 and 40 were sitting nearby.
“Britain has been our destination from the day we left our home countries,” said one, who claimed to be a 19-year-old Iranian called Ali.
“Most of us have travelled thousands of miles to come here because we were told it was an easy route to England.
“Calais used to be where everybody headed towards, but Cherbourg is now better.”
Since the closure of Sangatte there have been more patrols by increasingly heavy-handed Calais police, infrared searches of lorries and trains, and other measures to try to keep undesirables away.
Accordingly, many have moved 200 miles along the Normandy peninsula to Cherbourg.
One of Ali's travelling companions, a 36-year-old also originally from Iran who asked to be referred to as Mo, said: “Charities give us food each day, but we need proper accommodation here.
“Fights sometimes break out between groups from different nationalities.”
Pointing to a group of Iraqis living in tents in a different corner of the site, he said: “We never speak to them, and they never have anything to do with us. The only thing we have in common is that we all want to get to England. We do not have visas or passports, but we will get across whatever the cost.”
The “welcome centre” in Cherbourg could be up and running by Christmas and a new one is also planned for Calais.
Damien Green, the Conservative spokesman on immigration, said: “This is a very disturbing development. Anything that encourages large concentrations of migrants who may wish to get across the Channel is bad for our immigration controls and dangerous for the truck drivers whose lorries the migrants try to board.”