French plan series of 'mini-Sangattes' in Calais
A string of 'mini Sangatte' welcome centres for UK-bound illegal immigrants are to be built near Calais.
By Peter Allen in Paris
Last Updated: 5:52PM GMT 12 Mar 2009
Eric Besson, the French immigration minister, has confirmed that the 'light buildings' will provide everything from food and showers, to information about how to claim asylum once they arrive in Britain.
The development came as the Paris government blamed the 2012 London Olympics for a big increase in the number of illegal workers flooding into Britain from France. Building work for all the multi-million pounds new stadiums requires a huge foreign work force.
Mr Besson, a former Socialist who joined President Nicolas Sarkozy's government in January, said the building of the new centres would help to deal with them all.
In an interview about the deteriorating situation in Calais, Mr Besson said: “With humanitarian workers and elected officials, we are moving towards the setting up of light structures around Calais.”
Up to 2,000 people are currently sleeping rough in the area as they try to get aboard trains and lorries heading for Dover, often paying up to 1,000 to people smugglers.
Mr Besson said the new buildings would “offer to foreigners without papers information services about their rights, but also sanitary facilities, and food points.”
An interviewer from Paris magazine VSD asked the minister: “So, you're constructing mini Sangattes?”
Mr Besson replied: “But they won't be permanent sleeping centres for illegal migrants.”
The move represents a drastic change in policy by the minister who during a recent visit to Calais promised to make the port 'watertight' to illegal migrants.
He said at the time: “We did not shut down Sangatte only to reopen it in another form, even a watered down one.”
A two acre site for a covered centre including a health centre, shower block and legal clinic has already been earmarked for the first new centre, in the new town of Grande Synthe, near Calais.
The centres will replace settlements which have sprung up around Calais, including one called 'The Jungle' where a London journalism student was raped last summer.
A spokesman for the UK Border Agency, which assists the French in policing Calais, said they were opposed to “Any sort of reception centre which might act as a magnet for illegal immigrants, traffickers and smugglers. Our border security starts overseas.”
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