A French charity has enraged UK officials by setting up a camp to help illegal migrants bound for the UK.
The centre is in the northern French town of Steenvoorde, which is on the main motorway heading to the ports of Calais and Dunkirk. It has marquees with beds, toilets and kitchens.
It was set up by Terre d’Errance Steenvoorde, a new charity and is designed for the thousands of migrants who regularly make their way to Channel ports in the hope of reaching the UK by ferry or train.
But UK officials believe the centre will become a magnate for thousands of unwanted foreigners.
And they fear it could cause similar problems to Sangatte, the former Red Cross centre near Calais, which housed thousands of migrants on their way to Britain. Sangatte was bulldozed as part of an Anglo-French deal in 2002.
The new camp was put up on Sunday and the charity intends to apply to the local council to have it made legal by the end of the week.
It is likely to receive the backing of local mayor Jean-Pierre Bataille who said the village was ‘an important logistical platform’ on the long road from blighted third world countries to the UK.
Charities said that increasingly tough measures being used to rid Calais of illegal migrants had caused a humanitarian disaster, with hundreds forced to sleep rough.
‘Nobody else wants to help these people, so we will,’ said a spokesman for Terre d’Errance Steenvoorde.
‘Hundreds use the village as a staging point on their journey to England, and we want to give them accommodation and food,’ the spokesman added.
Among the camp’s first residents are a group of Africans, including two men and four women, who claim to be from the war-torn country of Eritrea.
All are dreaming of a new life in the UK, where they hope to be able to find permanent accommodation and jobs.
’We will stay in Steenvorde for a short while before resuming our journey to England where we want to settle,’ said one.
Police said Steenvoorde had been popular with travelling migrants since around 2000 because it was on a main HGV route from the continent to Britain.
There is a vast lorry car park next to the motorway, where many board lorries making there way to channel ports, mainly Calais and Dunkirk.
‘There’s a regular game of cat and mouse going on between the authorities and the migrants,’ said a French frontier police spokesman.
‘With Calais becoming a more difficult place for migrants, many of them are trying their chances in Steenvoorde.’