THE UK’s response to the Calais crisis has been slammed by the United Nations special representative after Prime Minister David Cameron spoke of a “swarm” of migrants trying to enter the UK.
Peter Sutherland’s condemnation came as it was revealed 3,500 illegal immigrants have attempted to enter the UK via the Channel Tunnel so far this week and nine of them have been killed trying since June.
Cameron calling Calais migrants a ‘swarm’ is nothing short of disgraceful. Confirms there’s no dog-whistle these Bullingdon Boys won’t blow.”Andy Burnham
In the face of the crisis, which has turned the M20 in Kent into a car park with waiting lorries and vehicles trying to make the crossing to France, the Prime Minister has vowed that the UK will “not be a safe haven” for illegal immigrants.
But he continued to resist calls to send in troops and erect new barriers to help deal with the crisis.
His government has confirmed that it has suspended rules on driving hours for drivers of HGVs to allow those trapped in France and Kent to make their crossings.
A sign that the crisis is deepening came as Paul Carter, leader of Kent County Council, met officials from the Home Office to warn them that social services in the county could not cope with the impact of hundreds of minors arriving unaccompanied at the port of Dover.
Meanwhile, Kent Police have appealed to neighbouring forces in the south-east of England to help with Operation Stack, to handle vehicles stuck on the M20.
Speaking in Vietnam during his south-east Asian tour, Mr Cameron said the French had sent an extra 120 police and the UK was investing in fencing and security measures at the Channel crossings in Calais and Coquelles.
The Prime Minister said: “This is very testing, I accept that, because you have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs, it’s got a growing economy, it’s an incredible place to live.
“But we need to protect our borders by working hand in glove with our neighbours the French and that is exactly what we are doing.”
His use of the word “swarm” to describe the migrants drew immediate condemnation led by the UN’s special representative on migration, Mr Sutherland.
He said: “In my opinion, the debate in the UK is grossly excessive in terms of Calais. We are talking here about a number of people – a relatively small number in the context of what other countries are having to do – who are in terrible conditions and have to be dealt with by France and/or Britain.”
The migrants crossing the Mediterranean by boat are “in the main” genuine refugees fleeing violence and persecution, he said.
“Germany last year received 175,000 asylum applications. Britain received 24,000,” said Mr Sutherland.
“We are talking here about between 5,000 and 10,000 people in Calais who are living in terrible conditions. The first thing we have to do collectively is to deal with their conditions. Instead of talking about sending Gurkhas or building fences, we should be thinking of the humanitarian crisis.”
Mr Sutherland urged the UK to join the common European approach to the migrant issue, warning: “Anybody who thinks that by erecting borders or fences in some way a particular state can be protected from alleged ‘floods’ – which are anything but floods – of migrants is living in cloud cuckoo land.”
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) said it was “extremely concerned” by Mr Cameron’s language.
“To refer to desperate human beings as a ‘swarm’ is demeaning and ignites the flames of xenophobia,” said the JCWI in a statement.
“Such ‘tabloid style’ language is unnecessary and demeaning. Any continued rhetoric on such a sensitive subject will undo decades of race relations work in the UK. It will also undermine our respect and standing in the world.”
SNP international development and Europe minister Humza Yousaf accused Mr Cameron of “dog-whistle politics”.
He said: “There is a responsibility on all politicians to choose their words carefully.
“The situation in Calais is complex and requires a multi-agency response involving both UK and French authorities.
“While it is important that UK borders are appropriately controlled and managed, we need a long-term strategy which responds to the human and humanitarian issue around migration.”
He also joined calls for the UK to take in “a fair share” of immigrants.
He said: “By refusing to take its fair share of vulnerable migrants, or engage constructively, the UK government has turned its back on those in desperate need of help and, in turn, has contributed to the situation that has now developed.”
Even Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who had previously used the word “swarmed” to describe a previous immigrant problem at Calais, criticised the Prime Minister.
He said: “It’s not a word I would choose to use.”
Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn described Mr Cameron’s language as “inflammatory, incendiary and unbecoming of a Prime Minister”, while Mr Corbyn’s main rival, Andy Burnham, said it was “disgraceful” of the Prime Minister.