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British PM under fire for calling Calais migrants a ‘swarm’

Manan Vatsyayana / AFP I David Cameron speaking in Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur

The ongoing migrant crisis at Calais in northern France has become a hot political issue in the UK, where British Prime Minister David Cameron has come under fire for describing the thousands of people trying to reach Britain as a "swarm".


“We’ve got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean seeking a better life and wanting to come to Britain,” Cameron told reporters.

He added that most of the migrants were attracted by the perceived economic opportunities offered by Britain.

“We need to protect our borders by working hand in glove with our neighbours, the French, which is exactly what we’re doing,” he said.

The comments, made on Wednesday during a trip to Vietnam, earned him criticism from acting opposition Labour Party leader Harriet Harman, who said on Thursday that Cameron should "remember he is talking about people, not insects”.

The Refugee Council, a charity that works with asylum seekers, said it was "awful, dehumanising language from a world leader".

Bridget Chapman, who runs the Folkestone United pressure group trying to change attitudes towards the migrants, told FRANCE 24 that the British government was wilfully ignoring the plight of the migrants.

“They respond to negative rhetoric from [anti-immigration, far-right party] UKIP and the right-wing press by wanting to clamp down harder on migrants in Calais, rather than doing what’s morally right,” she said Thursday.

“People who have crossed the Sahara or the Mediterranean aren’t going to be stopped by more and more razor wire,” she added.

‘Send in the army’

Britain's tabloid media took great pleasure on Thursday in lashing out at two of their favourite targets: the government's immigration policy and the French.

Some right-wing tabloids even called for the British army to be deployed.

"Send in the army," the Daily Mail splashed on its front page.

Over five pages of coverage, its articles included one opinion piece headlined: "We kept out Hitler. Why can't our feeble leaders stop a few thousand exhausted migrants?"

Cameron said that the "finger of blame" should not be pointed at anyone for the crisis, which has nonetheless proved to be a test for the traditionally strong cross-channel relationship.

But mass circulation British daily The Sun had no such qualms, laying the blame squarely at the door of French authorities.

"France's heart is not in it. Their cops are overwhelmed and, besides, they'd rather pass the buck to us," it said, adding: "The anarchy at Calais is a weeping sore on the face of Europe."

However, the Daily Mirror tabloid took a different stance, stating in its editorial, “There is no swarm. There are no hordes. There are merely a handful of people who’ve had the wit and resources to get as far away from genocide, slavery, rape and murder as they possibly can.”

France bolsters police at Calais

The French press overall has tended to focus more on the human side of the tragedy.

"They fled war, massacres and oppression. They die on a train platform or next to a motorway if they manage to avoid drowning in the Mediterranean," left-wing L'Humanité said in an editorial. "No life deserves to end like this."

France responded to the crisis by bolstering its police presence by 120 troops in Calais on Wednesday.

Fewer attempts to enter the Eurotunnel were seen overnight than in previous nights. Police estimated that several hundred people tried to enter the premises of the Eurotunnel terminal, which was down significantly from the 2,100 attempts made on Monday night.

Authorities arrested around 300 of the estimated 1,000 migrants who tried to make the crossing on Thursday night.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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