Detention centre planned for illegal immigrants in Calais
A detention centre is being planned for Calais to hold hundreds of illegal immigrants trying to sneak in to the UK, immigration minister Phil Woolas has said.
By Tom Whitehead, Home Affairs Editor
Last Updated: 10:26PM GMT 17 Mar 2009
(PHOTO: A group of would-be immigrants in Calais hoping to come to Britain as asylum seekers Photo: BRIAN SMITH )
The proposed centre, which will be partly paid for by British taxpayers, will form the crux of joint Anglo-French measures to tackle the constant problem of illegal migrants flocking to the French port.
Charter flights to return those detained to their home countries are also planned, in particular Afghanistan and Iraq where the majority of the unlawful migrants come from.
News of the proposals came as hundreds of UK-bound migrants were involved in mass gang fight in central Calais.
Dozens were injured as violent confrontations between rival groups of different nationalities broke out, with many armed with knives or makeshift weapons.
The UK Government is pushing for the detention centre, and is even willing to help fund it, but is awaiting formal agreement from France.
It is hoped a deal can be sealed by the end of next month and before a French-UK summit in mid May.
The Conservatives said any centre would be a waste of money if nothing was done to tackle the rising number of unlawful migrants gathering at the coast.
Mr Woolas said: “We want to increase the profile of the deportations because we have to get the message back to Afghanistan and Iraq that Britain is not the Promised Land.
“We are in a 24-hour a day war with the traffickers.”
Details of the likely size of the centre, how much it would cost and a construction timetable are still being discussed, Mr Woolas said.
Whitehall sources said the UK Government would help fund the centre because it has a sense of responsibility over the fact many of the migrants are there after failing to get in to the UK.
It is also in the interests of the UK to deal effectively with the thousands of illegal immigrants who gathering around Calais and the neighbouring coast each year trying to cross the Channel, the source added.
Mr Woolas insisted any centre would not be like the controversial French Red Cross camp at Sangatte, which gave hundreds of immigrants temporary shelter, food and drink as they attempted to get into Britain illegally – a move that critics said encouraged illegal migrants to flock to the area.
A series of charter flights, also jointly funded, would then be used to return those detained, in particular to Kabul in Afghanistan, and Irbil in Northern Iraq.
Damian Green, shadow immigration minister, said: “This new detention centre will be a waste of money if it only deals with those who have passed through immigration controls. The real problem is the increasing numbers who are gathering at the coast with no intention of coming here legally.
“They will only be deterred by proper protection of our borders, which is why Conservatives propose to set up a specialist Border Police Force.”
Armed French riot police were called in to action in Calais after fighting among migrants broke out as local charities handed out free meals.
Last week the French government performed an astonishing U-turn, saying they were going to build a number of 'mini-Sangatte' welcome centres.
Immigration minister Eric Besson confirmed that the 'light buildings' would provide everything from food and showers, to information about how to claim asylum once they arrive in Britain.
Many fear they will be act as a magnet to thousands more migrants to Calais, just as the infamous Red Cross refugee centre at nearby Sangatte did before it was closed in 2002.
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