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Europe

British police arrive in Calais as Syrians demand right to go to UK

media Syrian refugees occupying the walkway at Calais demand to see British PM David Cameron Reuters/Pascal Rossignol

A delegation of three British police officers has arrived in the French Channel port of Calais, where dozens of Syrian refugees have blockaded a walkway, demanding to be allowed into the UK.

The three officers from Britain's Border Force met Calais Prefect Denis Robin as soon as they arrived.

Earlier in the day riot police called off an attempt to clear the Syrians from the walkway, which they have been occupying for three days, when two of them threatened to throw themselves from the roof of the port building that it leads to.

Robin offered to ensure that demands for asylum would be treated as a matter of urgency.

About 20 of the Syrians have been on hunger strike since Wednesday.

"They all hope the British representatives will come negotiate with us," one of them, Kamel, told RFI. "Since we are on an international border between France and the UK, we hope this will be an easy decision, just opening the borders or getting on a ship. It's our right, I think, to live a peaceful life, since we didn't find this life in France."

Kamel, who left Syria to avoid being drafted into military service, has a BA in English literature from a Syrian university and hopes to continue his studies in the UK.

He arrived in France three days ago and has been in Calais for two days.

"I joined them because we have the same dream, the same destination, which is to go to the UK," he says.

He was one of about 20 people taking part in a hunger strike -- saying others were unable (they are among children, women, old men).

Having been cleared out of several squats in the Calais area, they do not want to stay in France.

"People don't want to apply asylum here because they have had enough from the French police and French government," Kamel says. "Some of them have been here three months, and they have been arrested many times."

He says they believe it will be better in the UK.

"They have heard a lot about the UK. It's famous for its humanity, for helping people, and respecting human rights. We are human beings and we deserve a better life."

More than two million refugees have fled the conflict in Syria and they are now leaving the country at the rate of 5,000 a day, according to the UN refugees organisation, UNHCR.

French officials say that they have received 700 asylum requests since the beginning of the year and that 95 per cent of cases receive a favourable response.

The UNHCR last month appealed to France, which favours international action against Bashar al-Assad's regime, to take in more Syrian refugees.

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