Page last updated at 19:48 GMT, Friday, 18 September 2009 20:48 UK

UK turns down 'jungle migrants'

Immigrant at "the jungle" in Calais
Some 1,500 migrants live in very poor conditions outside Calais

The UK Border Agency has rejected calls for Britain to accept some migrants from the illegal camp in Calais known as "the jungle".

High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres had said the government should consider granting entry to those who already have large families in the UK.

He spoke after French officials said the camp would be shut down imminently.

But the UK Border Agency said genuine asylum seekers should make their claim in the country where they enter Europe.

An agency spokesman said: "People seeking asylum should do so in the first safe country they come to, those who are not in need of protection will be expected to return home.

"The decision to close illegal encampments in and around Calais is a matter for the French government and we will continue to cooperate with them on tackling illegal immigration."

'Granted protection'

The camp has replaced official centres like Sangatte as a gathering point for migrants hoping to cross to Britain.

Some 1,500 people, many of them from Iraq and Afghanistan, are now living in insanitary settlements close to the port.

France's Immigration Minister Eric Besson told French television that imminent closure of the 'jungle' would send a strong message that people traffickers could no longer use Calais.

The UK supports all action to tackle illegal immigration and to break up trafficking routes
UK Border Agency spokesman

The minister was due to hold talks on the issue with Mr Guterres on Thursday, but in the meantime, the high commissioner told the BBC the UK should be prepared to help France handle the closure.

"There will be situations in which we would recommend the British authorities consider the possibility, within reason, of receiving, for instance, people who have large families in Britain and things of this sort," he said.

"What I believe is important is that everybody that is in need of protection should be granted protection."

Mr Besson said it would be the local Calais authorities who would set the exact date for clearing the tents and makeshift shelters, but regardless, it would be closed before the end of next week.

'Asylum a la carte'

He promised that the operation would be carried out humanely and that each illegal immigrant would be offered the chance to apply for asylum or to return voluntarily to their country of origin.

None would be forcibly returned, he added.

Mr Guterres also called on all European countries to work more effectively together to standardise their asylum policies.

"The problem is that we have freedom of movement among European countries, but we have different asylum systems with different rates of recognition," he said.

"You might be easily recognised as a refugee in one of the European countries and not so easily in another.

"You have a kind of asylum a la carte and this doesn't make sense at all."

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