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Page last updated at 18:57 GMT, Thursday, 23 April 2009 19:57 UK

France 'to shut down Calais camp'

Afghan migrants in "the Jungle" - their camp in Calais
Charities have donated food and clothing to people in the camp

French authorities have said they plan to close a migrant squatter camp outside Calais by the end of this year.

Immigration Minister Eric Besson said the camp, known as "the jungle", would be replaced by a temporary centre offering migrants food and shelter.

There are estimated to be about 1,000 migrants in makeshift camps in Calais, most hoping to enter Britain illegally.

The British government said they had been "locked out" of the UK by the country's tough border controls.

In remarks made to businesses during a visit to Calais and broadcast on France radio, Mr Besson said: "I'm telling you in advance that we won't allow this situation to deteriorate, that the jungle will not exist any more."

"To maintain and develop the jungle would be an obstacle to economic interests and employment."

He added: "The law of the jungle will not rule either here in Calais or anywhere else in France".

Benefit system

The camps sprang up after France closed the Sangatte Red Cross refugee centre in 2002.

Since then, charities have provided donations of food and clothing to migrants, but business owners in Calais say their presence is having a detrimental effect on the town.

Mr Besson said a new centre to replace "the jungle" would offer food, shelter and advice for those seeking asylum in Britain, but would not be permanent or provide overnight accommodation.

The illegal migrants in Calais are not queuing to get into Britain
Border and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas

Some in France, including the mayor of Calais Natasha Bouchart, have blamed Britain's attractive benefit system for the influx.

Mr Besson also called on the British government to do more.

"Britain should step up its controls and take on more of this burden," he said. "Britain should also question why migrants and the traffickers in migrants believe that the British illegal job market is a golden opportunity."

But Border and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said the UK only offered benefits to those "who play by the rules, work hard, pay taxes and learn to speak English".

"The illegal migrants in Calais are not queuing to get into Britain - they have been locked out by one of the toughest border crossings in the world," he said.

"I have made it clear that those trying to cheat our system will not be tolerated, which is why last year UK Border Agency staff worked tirelessly at our French and Belgium controls - stopping more than 28,000 attempts to cross the Channel illegally."

Last week, French police carried out an early morning raid at the camp and detained 150 people, many of them from Afghanistan.

During a visit to Calais in January, Mr Besson vowed to deal with the growing problems in the area.

The French and British governments are currently discussing the creation of a new immigrant holding centre within the British-controlled zone of the Calais docks.



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