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Calais mayor 'disgusted' that UK won't take 3,500 refugees from town

Published 08/09/2015

Mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart says Britain is showing contempt for the people of the port
Mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart says Britain is showing contempt for the people of the port

The Mayor of Calais has spoken of her "disgust" that Britain has not offered to take migrants from her town after the Government pledged to resettle up to 20,000 refugees.

Natacha Bouchart accused David Cameron of showing "contempt" for the people of Calais as she called on him to accept 3,500 people massed in the northern French port.

In an uncompromising performance in front of MPs, she also said Britain must make it clear that it is not an "El Dorado" for migrants, claiming they are attracted by the "ease of life" and citing the benefits system and access to jobs in the unofficial economy.

Appearing at the Home Affairs Select Committee, Ms Bouchart was asked about the Prime Minister's announcement that although Britain will take 20,000 refugees, this would not include those who have already arrived in Europe.

Speaking through an interpreter, she said: "I am disgusted by that. Understand the position we've been in for the last 15 years.

"If he doesn't take refugees from Calais, that is proof that he is contemptuous of the population in Calais."

She asked: "Could Mr Cameron take 3,500 migrants from Calais?"

Questioned about whether this would send a message that would encourage more people to the town, she said: "Does that mean that the people of Calais are going to be condemned to live in this situation forever?"

The mayor claimed that nearly all of the migrants gathered in her town want to go to the UK.

"Less than 10% want to stay in France," she said. "All the others want to come to England and we are going round and round in a circle. Even if we opened up 50,000 places in France they would not claim asylum in France."

She has repeatedly argued that the impression that Britain is a comfortable place for migrants to live is a major pull factor for those arriving in Calais.

Ms Bouchart re-affirmed the claim, saying : "Migrants say that when they get to England they can easily find work here. They can find accommodation and have some kind of benefits every day."

Her town's residents have been"taken hostage" and are "suffering day and night" because of the crisis, she suggested.

"We need to continue to assert and confirm that the UK is not an El Dorado for migrants," the Mayor said. "We need to take into account the population of Calais."

Questioned about figures suggesting that benefits for asylum seekers were more generous in France and that the black market is more lucrative on the other side of the Channel, she said she was simply repeating what migrants said.

"They are all unanimous," she said. "It is the families who are in England who pass the message to the migrants in Calais.

"It is the ease of life for migrants in England. That is why they are ready to die to claim asylum here and we have to bury the people who are dying in Calais."

She also demanded "economic aid" from the British Government.

Ms Bouchart added: "I am looking for about 50 million (£36 million) euros from national authorities and European authorities."

Immigration Minister James Brokenshire was asked by committee chairman Keith Vaz if there was any way the Government could relocate some Syrians who make it to Calais "as a gesture of goodwill".

The minister said: "Our focus, as the Prime Minister has indicated is, through that resettlement in the camps directly from region."

Figures provided by Sir Charles Montgomery, director general of UK Border Force, disclosed that o fficers at "juxtaposed" controls in France stopped 40,000 attempts to cross the Channel in the last financial year while 30,000 interceptions were made in the first three months of 2014/15 alone.

These will include repeated attempts by the same people.

He said new security measures around the Port of Calais and the Coquelles terminal are starting to take effect by "reducing quite markedly" the number of attempted crossings.

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