Britain was under pressure yesterday to take in hundreds of migrants who have been living in a shanty town in Calais known as The Jungle.
The UN’s refugee chief said Britain should take a share of the migrants who are to be evicted from their shacks when French officials clear the camp, probably early next week.
As many as 2,000 foreigners live rough in the Calais area with about 800, mainly from Iraq and Afghanistan, camped in The Jungle.
The proposal by Antonio Guterres raised the prospect of a repeat of the British humiliation when France closed the Red Cross refugee camp at Sangatte seven years ago.
Then Britain accepted and gave four-year work permits to 1,200 migrants who had been waiting near the Channel Tunnel mouth in the hope of making a crossing and claiming asylum.
But three months later, it emerged that the great majority had refused work and were costing taxpayers £100,000 a day in benefits.
Many were living in hotels, including the four-star Adelphi in Liverpool. None of the Sangatte migrants is thought to have left the UK since.
French officials have decided to bulldoze The Jungle after months of violence and disorder on the streets of Calais involving migrant gangs and attempts to board lorries bound for Dover.
Mr Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, waded into the row over the camp with a demand that ‘everybody that is in need of protection should be granted protection’.
The former Portuguese prime minister said: ‘There will be situations in which we would recommend the British authorities consider the possibility, within reason, of receiving, for instance, people who have large families in Britain and things of this sort.’
He did not specify how many migrants he thought Britain should take.
Mr Guterres spoke after meeting with the man in charge of clearing The Jungle, French immigration minister Eric Besson, who has in the past advocated freedom of travel for migrants from France to Britain.
A statement put out by the UK Border Agency stopped short of a refusal to accept any of those from The Jungle.
A spokesman said: ‘People seeking asylum should do so in the first safe country they come to. Those who are not in need of protection will be expected to return home.
‘The decision to close illegal encampments in and around Calais is a matter for the French government and we will continue to co- operate with them on tackling illegal immigration.’
There was anger in the UK over the suggestion that migrants from The Jungle should come here.
Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green said: ‘Britain has a duty to genuine refugees but not to anyone who happens to have made their way to Calais.
‘We need to improve our own border security which has been too lax for too long.’
Robert Whelan, of the Civitas think-tank, said: ‘It is very important that people of all countries feel they have control over their own borders.
‘Decisions need to be taken by an elected government, not by a UN quango.’