Calais opens 'welcome centre' to help migrants stay in France… and gets ZERO enquiries (proof they all want to come to Britain?)
By Ian Sparks
Last updated at 5:59 PM on 06th May 2009
A French government advice centre to help migrants in Calais who want to stay in France opened this week – and failed to get a single inquiry.
Critics said the zero response was proof that the migrants only ever had one destination in mind – Britain.
The new state-funded 'welcome centre' is the response by Paris to the demand from the Calais local authority for action to deal with the hundreds of migrants in the area.
It hopes to ease the problem by helping migrants who wish to seek asylum in France.
But when it opened yesterday, not one immigrant arrived at the town centre office to show any interest in their services.
By contrast, hundreds of migrants were – as usual – milling around the docks, just a mile away, hoping to sneak aboard a ferry or lorry to Britain.
And it was no surprise the centre had no takers, as one of the first things have to do is give their fingerprints.
Even the French authorities seem to accept they are offering only a token gesture, as the centre will be open for just four and a half hours a day… and only on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
But it is supposedly part of a masterplan by hard-line immigration minister Eric Besson to banish thousands of migrants from the northern French coast.
He said it would offer 'personalised advice' to asylum seekers who want to stay in France.
French riot police stand guard over asylum seekers staging a si
French riot police stand guard over asylum seekers staging a sit-in to prevent them from entering the centre of Calais during Mr Besson's visit last month (file photo)
And he denied local fears it would lead to any extension of government help to migrants, such as centres offering food or accommodation on the lines of the infamous Sangatte, which was shut down in 2002.
Mr Besson insisted after the centre was opened on Tuesday: 'It is a service to help the migrants in Calais with asylum advice, and solely for giving help on how to claim asylum in France.'
Calais deputy prefect Gerard Gavory said the centre was no more than a branch office of the regional asylum centre in the town of Arras, 40 miles away.
And he claimed it would only help clear the streets and surroundings of Calais of refugees.
He added: 'Anyone using the centre will have their fingerprints taken so we can ascertain on the international Eurodac database whether they have already claimed asylum in another country.
'Then they will be told how they can apply to live in France, and given addresses of temporary accommodation they can use outside of Calais.
'It will not bring more refugees to Calais. They are already there, and if they are not coming to us, we will come to them.'
Three people would work in the office, located in a local government building in the town centre, and it would be open for four and half hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Mr Gavory said.
Asylum seekers using the service would be asked to formally state their claim on why they should not be returned to their home country, then offered temporary accommodation 50 miles away while their application is considered, he added.
Calais residents' association spokesman Romain Huillier said it was clear the lack of response to the centre – despite the fact that it had only been open one day – was evidence none of the migrants wanted to stay in France but were heading for Britain.
He said: 'We have had to put up with migrants on our streets for ten years.
'They should be rounded up and taken to an asylum reception centre many miles away from the Channel coast – because they are only here as a stepping stone to Britain in the first place.
'If they are in Calais hoping to sneak aboard a boat, they are hardly like to turn up and agree to have their fingerprints taken.'
The opening of the centre comes just two weeks after the French government vowed to clear Calais of the shanty town of illegal immigrants waiting to cross to the UK.
Immigration minister Mr Besson said he would bulldoze the woodland squat known as the Jungle – then visited the town last month to promise to residents and local businesses that he would return Calais to normal.
Meanwhile Calais mayor Natacha Bouchard proposed her own solution to the migrants on her streets, by suggesting Britain should sign up to the Schengen Agreement, which allows anybody to travel between designated EU states – including France – without passports or visas.
There are currently around 2,000 mainly Iraqi, Afghan, Somali and Kurdish refugees living rough in Calais. Many make daily attempts to sneak aboard ferries, lorries and Channel Tunnel trains to Britain.
The Home Office said the number of refugees caught sneaking into Britain from Calais fell from 10,000 five years ago to 1,500 last year, a fall of about 88 per cent.
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