French riot squad to halt Cherbourg migrants
By Peter Allen in Cherbourg
Last Updated: 2:30am BST 27/09/2007
French riot police have begun a “war” in the port of Cherbourg against hundreds of migrants trying to enter Britain illegally by stowing away on ferries.
Officers from the CRS (Compagnies Rpublicaines de Scurit) moved in after local police complained that they were unable to cope with the huge numbers of migrants who test the port's defences on a nightly basis.
Up to 150 people are arrested every day in Cherbourg as they attempt to hide in and underneath lorries boarding ferries to Britain.
So great is their number, a migrant “shanty town” has been set up in the city.
“It's a war, and a very difficult one,” said Jean-Louis Fargeas, Prefect of Le Manche district of France, which covers Cherbourg.
He added: “We have deployed nightly patrols of CRS to deal with the situation, but the problem goes on and on.”
The CRS earned a reputation for ruthlessness quelling riots in major cities.
They were drafted in to Cherbourg late last week on the orders of the French immigration minister.
Last night their effectiveness was on display as they began pulling men from the axles of lorries bound for Britain.
But police are fighting a relentless battle, said Michel LeCavorzin, the Cherbourg police commissioner, with many of the migrants arrested destined to return to try again.
“They will be asked if they want to claim asylum, but if not there is very little we can do,” he said. “Every single one of them says they want to go to England.
''Because they have no official papers which we can use to repatriate them, they end up getting released back into the community. Then, inevitably, they come back to the port to have another go at getting to England. It's a cycle which goes on and on.”
There are now so many would-be immigrants living rough in Cherbourg that the city's legal department has applied to the administrative court in nearby Caen to have the “shanty town” destroyed.
The so-called Maupas squat, on a stretch of wasteland close to the port, is home to some 20 improvised shelters, made of plastic, cardboard and bin liners.
But if the camp is torn down this week, the prospect of an official “welcome centre” being opened will come ever closer.
Calls for such a centre from charities, including Amnesty International, have prompted fears of a new Sangatte, the notorious Red Cross refugee camp located near the entrance of the Channel Tunnel in Calais which attracted 67,000 immigrants before being closed in 2002.
But Bernard Cazeneuve, the mayor of Cherbourg, said an official camp would at least ensure the migrants remained in one place where they could be policed properly.
Since the closure of Sangatte, increasingly heavy-handed patrols by Calais police pushed many migrants 200 miles along the Normandy peninsula to Cherbourg.
“Cherbourg is definitely the best place to get to Britain nowadays,” said one immigrant, who claimed to be a 19-year-old from Iran called Maysa.
“We want to travel there because we can get money, homes and jobs in Britain.
''My ambition is to become a businessman and then to bring my family to join me in London. There is nothing for us in France.”
The immigrants also want refugees to be able to claim asylum for any specific EU country from wherever they want.
This would allow the Cherbourg refugees to claim asylum in France and then be given free passage to Britain.
Comment: French Channel coast a target for 'illegals'
6 September 2007: Cherbourg outcry over British-bound migrants
25 August 2002: Wave of migrants descends on France's 'new Sangatte'
5 September 2007: Migrant centre plan stirs fears of new Sangatte