All but nine detained migrants freed in Calais

French authorities have released all but nine of the approximately 200 migrants arrested on Tuesday during a police operation in the northern French port of Calais. The migrants, mostly Afghans, have been trying to cross over illegally to the UK.


AFP - French authorities have released around 190 undocumented migrants, officials said Wednesday, a day after a major police operation against a squatter camp in the Channel port of Calais.

Only nine of the approximately 200 migrants detained in Tuesday's raid were still in custody, police and judicial officials said, as prosecutors decided whether they should be charged in relation to people trafficking.

Aside from the nine being held for questioning, nine more have been freed pending hearings on whether they should be expelled from France for breaching immigration rules, Boulogne prosecutor Jean-Philippe Joubert told AFP.

Of the others, the vast majority have simply been freed to return to Calais and resume their attempts to cross the Channel illegally to Britain, although some minors among them have been placed in care homes.

Tuesday's sweep, in which 500 police officers sealed off one of Calais' most notorious squatter camps and searched motorway rest areas, was attacked by rights groups as a media stunt ahead of a ministerial visit.

Immigration Minister Eric Besson is due in Calais on Thursday to announce measures to deal with the problem posed by the hundreds of migrants sleeping rough there while seeking means to continue on to Britain.

Most of those arrested on Tuesday were Afghans.

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 a better life in Britain were housed at an organised camp in Sangatte, near Calais.

The then interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who is now the French president, closed the centre following pressure from London, which said it encouraged migrants to make the illegal and dangerous trip across the Channel.

Since 2002, however, travellers have continued to arrive in the region. As their numbers have built up in the woods and dunes in and around Calais they have become a concern to local officials.

In a radio interview early Wednesday, Besson said the government would announce "light measures" to improve welfare facilities for migrants on the ground, "without building any kind of solid structure."

Both France and Britain have ruled out creating any permanent new structure for migrants in Calais.

"There will not be a new Sangatte. There will not be any kind of mini-Sangatte," Besson told RMC radio.

But he also repeated calls for London to help stem the tide of migration across the Channel, saying he would raise the issue in coming days with Britain's immigration minister, Phil Woolas.

"Britain probably... needs to step up its controls, shoulder a bigger share of the financial burden, and especially ask itself why traffickers and migrants see Britain's illegal job market as a golden opportunity," he said.

Woolas said in March that London was trying to reach agreement with the French on plans for a new detention centre in Calais, but this was later denied by Besson.

Charities estimate that between 600 and 800 migrants -- including Afghans, Eritreans, Somalis, Sudanese, Iranian, Nigerians and Kurds -- are sleeping rough in the Calais region.

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