French police launched a massive operation in the northern town of Calais resulting in the arrest of over 150 people, mostly migrants. France's interior minister, Eric Besson, said the operation was intended to dismantle human trafficking networks.
AFP - French police detained around 200 undocumented migrants, many of them Afghans, on Tuesday in a major operation in the Channel port of Calais, regional state authorities said.
Thousands of migrants pass through Calais and its squatter camps every year trying to cross the Channel from France illegally to seek new lives in Britain.
Police cordoned off a major camp in Calais itself and seized some 150 people, while picking up a further 33 in motorway rest stops outside the city and 11 in the nearby town of Saint Omer, a state spokeswoman said.
About 300 French officers were involved in Tuesday's sweep, she said, which came two days before Immigration Minister Eric Besson was due to visit Calais for talks on the situation following complaints from local lawmakers.
"It's an attempt to dismantle people trafficking networks. It's an operation to destabilise the networks and try to find the smugglers," she said, adding that a security cordon had been thrown up around a migrant camp.
A volunteer working at a care station for the migrants complained that the area had been under siege for more than a week before the raid.
"We're trapped. Democracy is doing its job," Jean-Claude Lenoir remarked, in a bitter reference to the political pressure brought to bear on the police.
Many of those arrested identified themselves as Afghans, the official said. They have been taken into custody in the cities of Calais, Boulogne and Lille on the orders of the Boulogne state prosecutor.
Besson last visited Calais on January 27 and promised that he would come up with a permanent solution to the problems posed by the migrants by May 1.
Until November 2002, many of the arrivals from Asia, the Middle East and Africa crossing France en route for what they believe would be an easier life in Britain were housed at an organised camp in Sangatte, near Calais.
Then interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who has since become president, closed the centre following pressure from London, which said it encouraged migrants to make the illegal and dangerous trip across the Channel.
Since then, however, travellers have continued to arrive in the region hoping to sneak on board trucks and trains using the ferries and tunnel to southern England, or to pay traffickers to arrange the crossing.
As their numbers have built up in squatter camps in the woods and dunes in and around Calais they have become a concern to local officials.
Date created : 2009-04-21