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French interior minister heads to Calais after migrant clashes

media Fernch Interiror Minister Bernard Cazeneuve ©Reuters.

French Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve visits Calais on Monday, his first trip since taking up the job in March.

Two weeks ago, he announced a further 100 police officers for the town, to help it cope with the hundreds of migrants who have set up makeshift camps there.

Most of the estimated 2,300 migrants are from Afghanistan or East African countries, especially Eritrea - nearly all hope to get to Britain by smuggling themselves aboard lorries, cars or ferries.

People living in the northern French port town, which has a population of around 75,000, are becoming increasingly impatient over the impact on their lives of the migrants.

There has been a surge in theft-related crime and on Saturday two youths with bruised faces told police they had been mugged and their mobile phones stolen.

There have also been violent clashes between different groups of migrants.

The police hope to better control access to the port following numerous reports that desperate migrants have tried to access lorries waiting to board ferries.

Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve told French radio station RTL on Monday that he hoped to find ‘humane solutions’ to the problem.

“Many of these migrants are asylum seekers”, he said. They were not, he stated, leaving their countries “because they were fascinated by the Schengen Accord [passport free travel between signatory countries, including several EU members and Switzerland,] but because they are persecuted in their own countries.”

The mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, of the right wing UMP, wants confirmation from the minister that a Day Centre will be opened “very shortly” and that squats in the town centre be evacuated in line with recent legal rulings which, she said, have not yet been applied.

Several aid agencies, including Médecins du Monde have called for small reception centres, offering beds as well as services like the processing of asylum application papers. They suggest several such centres dotted around the town, to reduce the problems associated with large groups of migrants.

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