LONDON, Sept 22 – A British minister hailed on Tuesday a "decisive" French crackdown on a camp used by migrants trying to enter Britain, and insisted it will not be forced to let any of them in.
The reaction came after French riot police rounded up scores of mainly Afghan migrants in a dawn raid on the makeshift camp known as the "Jungle," in the northern French port city of Calais.
"I welcome the swift and decisive steps that the French government has taken today to close the ‘jungle’ in Calais, action which will disrupt illegal immigration and people trafficking routes," said Home Secretary Alan Johnson.
"It is a clear signal that France is honouring the agreement… to build even stronger controls at the Calais border with the UK," he added in a statement.
Early Tuesday morning French riot police moved in to clear the Calais camp. French government official Pierre de Bousquet de Florian said 278 people were detained in the operation.
Minor scuffles broke out between police, some with truncheons, and a few dozen activists who set up a human chain around the migrants.
The British minister pledged continuing support for the French action, saying UK Border Agency officers "already work day and night alongside the French authorities to secure the border at Calais".
But he denied that Britain would be forced to take refugees from the French camp, although it would help genuine asylum seekers.
"The UK has a robust system for dealing with both asylum seekers and immigration and provides protection to those who are genuinely in need," he said.
"Reports that the UK will be forced to take illegal immigrants from the ‘Jungle’ are wrong."
Refugees’ rights campaigners meanwhile branded the French action as "distressing."
"We’ve always been concerned about the vulnerability of the people living in hideous conditions," said Gemma Juma of the Refugee Council.
"The fact that so many are so young should make us ashamed that a better solution hasn’t been found before now… We need to make sure all of those children are safe and properly looked after."
Johnson said both France and Britain were committed to helping people 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," he said.
"The measures we have put in place are not only there to prevent illegal immigration but also to stop people trafficking. We are working with the French not only to strengthen our shared border but that of Europe as a whole."