‘Soft touch’ Britain is ‘El Dorado’ for illegal migrants, says Calais mayor

 ‘Soft touch’ Britain is ‘El Dorado’ for illegal migrants, says Calais mayor

The mayor of Calais has blamed Britain for fuelling the Channel small boats crisis because a failure to tighten its laws means it has remained an “El Dorado” for illegal migrants.

Natacha Bouchart urged Emmanuel Macron, the French president, to “strongarm” Britain into overhauling the treaty that gives France responsibility to stop migrants before they cross the Channel. 

Her comments came as a second migrant in two days was found dead near a boat on a beach close to Calais. Two other people were taken to hospital with severe hypothermia. 

On Wednesday, a migrant in his 30s died when an overloaded dinghy sank near Dunkirk. Another is missing.

French authorities were so overwhelmed by crossings this week that they had to put rescued children in blankets “in police car boots” while working out what to do with them. 

“There was no other way to warm them up,” an officer in Boulogne-sur-mer told the local La Voix du Nord newspaper.

Speaking after Wednesday’s rescue operation, Gérard Barron, the president of the lifeboat station of Boulogne-sur-Mer, said: “In four years of lifeboat rescue, this has been the most difficult day. 

“It’s totally unmanageable. It’s a mess. We no longer have stocks of clothes, we are almost out of survival blankets. And it’s very cold.”

On Wednesday, L’Abeille Languedoc, a French navy vessel, broke the record for a single rescue when it returned 180 migrants to the port of Portel. “The previous record was 130 a few weeks ago,” said Olivier Barbarin, the local mayor.

Around 800 people were rescued between Monday and Wednesday, while it is estimated that nearly 1,000 reached the UK on Tuesday and Wednesday. It took the total arriving in Britain this year to around 22,200, compared with 8,714 for the whole of last year.

Ms Bouchart, a member of the centre-Right Republicains, said Britain’s “soft touch” on migrants had inflicted “trauma” on Calais residents “for over 20 years” by essentially luring people to the French port from all over the EU.

“We know that a migrant who arrives in England is taken care of. They are housed, they have an income,” she said. “For them, England remains an El Dorado, but the British Government does not have the courage to review its legislation in the field.”

Under the Touquet Treaty of 2003, the UK border was effectively moved on to French soil. British immigration officials can conduct border checks in Calais and Dunkirk rather than in Dover. However, France has complained that this leaves it in charge of border protection arrangements. 

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