Calais opens shelter for immigrants bound for Britain
A shelter has been opened in Calais for hundreds of illegal migrants trying to get to Britain.
By Peter Allen in Paris
Last Updated: 5:13PM GMT 29 Dec 2008
They are being given beds and meals in a gym close to the town's ferry port, where many will try and smuggle themselves aboard lorries heading towards Dover.
The opening of the centre was authorised by Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart, and is being run by local charities.
It represents a u-turn by the right-wing local council, which pledged there would be no welcome provided to illegal migrants.
It now argues that temperatures have dropped so low that it would be a danger to allow anybody to sleep rough.
A town council spokesman said: “Shelter, food and heating are all being provided for these migrants heading for Britain. The gym will remain open until at least January 5.
“There are no plans to open a permanent welcome centre, but something had to be done during the cold spell.”
Some 170 migrants were today staying at the centre with many of them coming from a notorious makeshift camp on the edge of the ferry port known as 'The Jungle'.
It has become a haven for people smugglers offering passages to England for migrants who want to claim asylum or take jobs in the black economy.
Last summer a London journalism student was raped in the area as she took photos to highlight the appalling living conditions.
Armed riot police have been smashing up such illegal camps in what was meant to be a crackdown aimed at keeping migrants out of Calais.
As well as beds, the municipal gym provides shower facilities and a kitchen, which provided 750 meals for the migrants on Sunday.
Vincent Lenoir, of Salam, one of the local refugee charities helping to run the centre, said: “For us having a shelter like this is the very minimum we need. It is essential for the migrants as they make their journeys to Britain.”
There are currently an estimated 2,000 migrants sleeping rough in the Calais area, with most claiming to come from countries like Afghanistan and Eritrea.
French immigration minister Brice Hortefeux has continually ruled out building of any kind of permanent centre for Britain-bound migrants.
In 2002 an Anglo-French agreement led to the bulldozing of the notorious Red Cross Centre at Sangatte, near Calais, which had become a magnate for thousands of them.