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Page last updated at 11:49 GMT, Tuesday, 10 March 2009

French Nazi-era barb sparks row

French director Philippe Lioret, file pic from February 2009
Mr Lioret said a law making it a crime to help illegal immigrants was crazy

A French minister has criticised a film maker for likening his government to France's Nazi-backed Vichy regime over its treatment of illegal migrants.

Immigration Minister Eric Besson said the comparison was "intolerable", and that Director Philippe Lioret had "crossed the line".

Mr Lioret made the comparison about a law making it a crime to help illegal immigrants, which he called "crazy".

His film, Welcome, is about a refugee hoping to swim the Channel to the UK.

"If tomorrow you help a bloke who has no papers, you're guilty under the offence of 'helping a person whose papers are not in order'," Mr Lioret told La Voix du Nord, a regional newspaper.

"What country are we living in? I have the impression that we're in 1943 and that we've hidden a Jew in the cellar."

But Mr Besson countered: "To suggest that the French police are like the police of Vichy, and that Afghans are hunted down, are the target of round-ups... is intolerable."

While the Red Cross-run accommodation centre in Sangatte operated between 1999 and 2002, the scale of illegal immigration from Calais to the UK soared.

When the centre closed, there was more than an 80% fall in the number of migrants caught.

In the last five years, UK officials have stopped more than 88,500 attempts from people trying to get into the UK illegally, according to the UK Border Agency. Of those, 61,000 were at Calais alone.

More than 75,000 Jews were arrested in France during World War II. Most died in concentration camps such as Auschwitz. Those caught harbouring Jews faced a similar fate.

Welcome opens in France on Wednesday.

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