Britain will not take in hundreds of migrants evicted yesterday from the French refugee camp known as the Jungle, the Home Secretary claimed last night.
Alan Johnson insisted that suggestions Britain will be forced to accept some of the migrants were ‘wrong’. He added he was ‘delighted’ French police had bulldozed the squalid camp near Calais.
However, evidence from France last night suggested Mr Johnson’s optimism was seriously misplaced.
Many of those forced out of the Jungle at dawn by more than 600 riot police said they were still determined to reach Britain.
Among them was Afridi Kahn, a salesman from Pakistan’s north-west border with Afghanistan.
The 30-year-old father of two young boys had already made several attempts to get to Britain since arriving in the Jungle a few weeks ago.
‘In Britain you get a solicitor, pocket money, good accommodation, your health is taken care of,’ he said. ‘People have rights in Britain. In France you get nothing.’
The entry of riot police into the camp at 7.39am local time led to violent clashes. Lines of men from France’s feared Compagnie Republicaine De Securite, or CRS, filed in, some wearing full riot gear and armed with tear gas and handguns.
Also involved in the operation were 30 interpreters, three bulldozers, 12 lorries, and a team of tree surgeons.
Many of the immigrants, encouraged by a group of anarchists chanting, ‘We will fight, we will fight’, refused to go. Some had to be dragged out kicking and screaming.
The worst trouble took place around the makeshift mosque, which the mainly Afghan Muslim residents of the camp had promised to defend ‘at all costs’.
‘It is the centre of our camp, and leaving it pains us massively,’ said Omar, a 26-year-old originally from Kabul, shortly before he was arrested.
‘The police can try to stop us as much as they like, but nothing will stop us getting to England.’
In total, 278 migrants were arrested, 132 of whom claimed to be aged under 16. All were male. However, up to 1,000 were thought to have fled before the police arrived.
Many had disappeared overnight, moving to other parts of Calais where they will continue to plan their journeys to Britain in the back of lorries or trains.
Those who remained at the camp–where diseases such as scabies are rife–were divided into adults and children, put into a fleet of coaches, and taken to detention centres.
There they will be given a choice to either apply for asylum in France or face deportation to their own country.
Some of the evicted migrants will be offered £1,700 to return home under the Global Calais Project, which is funded by the British and French governments.
British taxpayers’ contribution, likely to run to millions of pounds, is to help the migrants set up a small business once they return to their homeland.
The Refugee Council, a charity providing advice to asylum seekers, wants Britain to accept some of the migrants, particularly children, with family connections here.
But the Government insisted that would not happen.
Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said: ‘These people have no rights to claim asylum in the UK. Indeed, we would question whether they were genuine asylum seekers.
‘If they were fleeing persecution, they have the right to claim asylum in the first country of entry if they leave their own country.’
Mr Woolas went on to deny that Britain was an ‘easy touch’ for those wanting to enter illegally.
‘My message is don’t try to get in, because you can’t unless you are a genuine asylum seeker.’
Mr Johnson added: ‘Reports that the UK will be forced to take illegal immigrants from The Jungle are wrong.
‘Both countries [Britain and France] are committed to helping individuals who are genuine refugees, who should apply for protection in the first safe country that they reach.
‘We expect those who are not in need of protection to return home.’
French immigration minister Eric Besson had earlier taken an equally hard-line stance. He claimed clearing The Jungle was a step towards making Calais ‘watertight’ to illegal migrants.
Just before the clearance operation began he said: ‘There are traffickers who make these poor people pay an extremely high price for a ticket to England.
‘This is not a humanitarian camp. It’s a base for people traffickers.’
Calais shopkeepers also welcomed the clearing of the camp. British holidaymakers have been carjacked by gangs of refugees in recent months.
However, many fear that the migrants will return elsewhere–just as they did when the notorious Sangatte camp was demolished in similar circumstances to the Jungle seven years ago.