The French government has vowed to shut down a squatter camp of illegal immigrants trying to reach Britain from the Channel port of Calais. It is unclear whether the measure will end a long-standing immigration problem that is causing friction between Paris and London.
French Immigration Minister Eric Besson declared he would shut down the squatter camp during a visit to Calais two days after a police raid rounded up about 190 illegal immigrants. The immigrants from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Africa have been using Calais to cross the Channel and enter Britain illegally. Police released most of them Wednesday.
Besson told local business leaders in Calais that the camps, which are located in an area known as the jungle, would be shut down.
Besson said he could not offer a specific date the camps would be closed, but he said the government would not tolerate their existence. The law of the jungle, he said, would not reign in Calais or anywhere else in France.
France has toughened its immigration policy under conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, tightening criteria for the legal immigrants it will accept, and increasing the number of illegal immigrants expelled from the country. But France still remains a top target for asylum seekers.
The Calais immigrant problem is not new. The government shut down a Red Cross shelter in nearby Sangatte under pressure from Britain. But the immigrants kept coming and opened their own makeshift shelters instead.
Besson outlined a six-point plan for responding to the Calais immigrants and said Britain must also help out.
He said the government planned to open so-called welcome shelters offering information about how to apply for asylum in France, along with food and showers. But it is unclear whether that will solve the long-standing problem of illegal immigrants in Calais.