UNHCR to help Calais migrants stay in France

27th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

The United Nations refugee agency is trying to encourage migrant not to try get into Britain by setting up an office in the French port of Calias.

Paris – The United Nations refugee agency is to set up an office in the French port of Calais to encourage some of the hundreds of migrants sheltering there not to try to get to Britain, it said Tuesday.

Among other assistance, the undocumented immigrants -- most of whom are in France illegally and plan to sneak into Britain -- will be told that if they wish they can attempt to claim refugee status in France instead.

"It's not about trying to convince people to seek asylum in France, but simply to give them the information they need to make an informed decision," said Francisco Galindo, representative for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The agency said it would bring refugee assistance groups from Britain to Calais to try to explain the reality of life there to would-be refugees who have travelled thousands of kilometres dreaming of a better future.

"They have illusions and fantasies," said UNHCR spokeswoman Marie-Ange Lescure, accusing human traffickers of putting "mirages in the head" of migrants who have often paid large sums to seek a new life in Britain.

The constant stream of illegal immigrants arriving in Calais, most of the from Southwest Asia and Africa, has been a source of tension between London and Paris and has stirred anger in the French Channel port itself.

Galindo said the office would open on 3 June after lengthy negotiations with French authorities. He said migrants in Calais were a mixture of those genuinely fleeing persecution and those seeking better economic opportunities.

France accuses Britain of acting as a magnet for illegal migrants by turning a blind eye to their widespread employment in its relatively unregulated labour market and by failing to enforce immigration controls.

Britain in turn says that asylum seekers should be the responsibility of the first European country in which they land, and says previous French attempts to house the migrants created a launching pad for illegal Channel crossings.

Meanwhile, impromptu squatter camps have sprung up in Calais to shelter some 800 Afghans, Kurds, Somalis, Eritreans and others, worrying some local people, who brand the camps eyesores and the new arrivals criminals.

Galindo said that Calais was "not simply a French problem" but a "regional issue, even a European one, with similar situations in, for example, the Greek port of Patras and some Belgian coastal towns.

"If the United Kingdom is a destination country, there are also entry and transit countries, like Italy, Greece, Malta, Cyprus and Spain," he added.

Last month French authorities said they would clear out the most notorious squatter camp, "The Jungle", a makeshift tented village that sprang up in wooded dunes near the Calais ferry terminal.

Meanwhile, the government has promised to find a long-term solution to the problem and has called for more coordination with Britain.

AFP / Expatica

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