Page last updated at 13:46 GMT, Tuesday, 27 January 2009

French migrant camp re-examined

Migrants in Calais
Hundreds of migrants hoping to enter the UK are camped near Calais

France's immigration minister is to visit Calais as concerns grow that calls for asylum seeker facilities will attract more migrants to the town.

A Red Cross centre in nearby Sangatte was closed in 2002 after an agreement between the French and UK governments.

Aid agencies say migrants gathering in the port should be given better shelter and are calling for a new centre.

The UK Border Agency says it will continue to work with France in fighting illegal migration.

BBC Europe correspondent Chris Mason said ministers at Westminster are likely to be watching closely because there could be significant implications for the UK if French policy changes.

But France's Immigration Minister Eric Besson told a French newspaper that another Sangatte was "out of the question".

'Humanitarian case'

The numbers of illegal immigrants to the UK have fallen from more than 10,000 in 2002, to 1,500 four years later.

To reopen such a centre would create a powerful invitation to new networks of illegal immigration
France's Immigration Minister Eric Besson

But since Sangatte's closure, migrants have had nowhere official to stay in the town and aid agencies say there is a strong humanitarian case for providing them with shelter.

Mr Besson is due to meet the Mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, and representatives of migrants' welfare organisations, later.

He will visit the port, the embarkation platforms for heavy goods vehicles travelling on the Eurotunnel freight shuttles.

Speaking to La Voix Du Nord newspaper, he said: "To reopen such a centre would create a powerful invitation to new networks of illegal immigration.

"It would not be a solution to the humanitarian problem. It would be an extra humanitarian problem."

Mr Besson said he planned to work with the British government on a common strategy "to reinforce controls and make the passage by the (Channel) Tunnel or port as difficult as possible for illegal immigrants".

"Our British partners must commit themselves more actively in the reinforcement of checks and security at Calais," he added.

The UK Border Agency figures show that in the last five years it has stopped around 61,000 people at Calais who were trying to enter the UK illegally.

The agency says that by working with the French government it has already created "one of the toughest border crossings in the world at Calais".

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