Illegal immigrants will be returned to home state – David Cameron

UN special envoy Peter Sutherland says media exaggerating on migrants flooding UK

Migrants who managed to pass the police block on the Eurotunnel site race towards the boarding docks in Coquelles near Calais, northern France, on Wednesday. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Migrants who managed to pass the police block on the Eurotunnel site race towards the boarding docks in Coquelles near Calais, northern France, on Wednesday. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images


Illegal immigrants attempting to enter Britain will be returned to their home countries, prime minister David Cameron said yesterday, as migrants continued to enter the site around the Channel Tunnel in France.

Speaking in Vietnam during a tour of southeast Asia, Mr Cameron said Britain was “not a safe haven” for illegal migrants, as the Calais migrant crisis continued to dominate news coverage in Britain. But Mr Cameron’s description of migrants as a “swarm” elicited strong criticism from human rights and migrants groups including the British Refugee Council.

About 800 migrants reportedly tried to enter the site around the Channel Tunnel in Calais on Wednesday night, despite the presence of 120 extra French police officers to help deal with security issues at the site. Many of those attempting to enter the tunnel were thought to be those who entered it on Monday and Tuesday night.

The UN’s special envoy on migration, Peter Sutherland, accused the British media of exaggerating “beyond belief” accounts of migrants and asylum seekers flooding in to the United Kingdom.

Mr Sutherland said media reports that “thousands of migrants” were attempting to travel to Britain from Calais through the Channel Tunnel had been “calculated to inflame tensions”.

“The total figure that we’re talking about is at most between 5,000 and 10,000 people who are living in dreadful conditions,” Mr Sutherland told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme.

“The number of cases approved in a number of countries is a massive multiple of the 10,000 that are the threat, allegedly. This is an exaggerated response and we should have a much more holistic European policy that actually works.”

Distinguishing between a refugee and a migrant is absolutely fundamental, said Mr Sutherland, explaining that a refugee is a person escaping persecution.

“Under a 1951 convention legally we are all obliged to keep a refugee and not to send a refugee back to the country where he or she was being persecuted. So there’s a a huge difference between the two.”

Calais has emerged as a key departure point for non-EU migrants attempting to enter Britain from the mainland. This week’s activity, which saw about 3,000 people try to enter the tunnel linking England and France on Monday and Tuesday night, has caused travel delays in both countries as the tunnel operator Eurotunnel struggles to cope with security breaches.

On Tuesday night one Sudanese man in his 20s died having been struck by a lorry exiting the tunnel. His death brings to nine the number of people who have lost their lives since June trying to make the clandestine trip from France to Britain.

More than 2,000 refugees and migrants are estimated to have died or gone missing while trying to cross the Mediterranean so far this year, according to the UNHCR. Most are believed to be fleeing war and persecution in Syria and northern Africa.

The European Union earlier this month agreed to relocate more than 32,000 Syrian and Eritrean refugees who have already arrived in Italy and Greece across the European Union. This is in addition to a resettlement programme that will redistribute 20,000 refugees residing outside the EU across the bloc.

Britain, which has an opt-out from most EU justice and home affairs legislation, is not partaking in either the relocation or resettlement programme. The Irish Government, which also has an opt-out, has chosen to take part in both programmes.

Mr Sutherland commended crew members of the Irish Naval Service who had saved lives in the Mediterranean and described Ireland’s response to the migrant crisis so far as “not bad”.

However, he highlighted that the people rescued in the Mediterranean were subsequently “dumped in Italy” which, he said, isn’t a fair allocation across the European Union.

“You can’t just say ‘you’re on the Mediterranean, you have to carry the burden’. “ He said it was not an issue just for Italy, Greece, Malta, Spain, “it has to be everybody’s responsibility”.

He said it was important for Ireland to “go further and do more”.