CALAIS • French President Francois Hollande said yesterday that the notorious "Jungle" camp on the outskirts of Calais will be completely dismantled by the end of the year despite growing controversy over the fate of thousands of desperate migrants there.
Mr Hollande's visit to the port of Calais comes just days after one by his conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy. Mr Sarkozy, who is hoping to make a comeback as president, is campaigning for a harsh line on migration.
Mr Hollande called on London to help deal with the plight of thousands of refugees in France whose dream is to eventually get to Britain.
"The situation is unacceptable and everyone here knows it," Mr Hollande said in Calais where as many as 10,000 migrants from war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan live in squalour. The migrants want to enter Britain, but the government in London argues that migrants seeking asylum need to do so under European Union law in the country which they enter.
Immigration was one of the main drivers of Britain's vote this year to leave the EU. If France stopped trying to prevent migrants from entering Britain, Britain would ultimately find itself obliged to deal with the asylum-seekers who land on its shores a short distance by ferry or train from Calais.
Mr Hollande bluntly reminded Britain of that, saying that he expected London to fully honour agreements on managing the flow of migrants.
REMINDER ON BRITAIN'S ROLE
I also want to restate my determination that the British authorities play their part in the humanitarian effort that France is undertaking and that they continue to do that in the future.
MR HOLLANDE, in a curt reminder to Britain.
"I also want to restate my determination that the British authorities play their part in the humanitarian effort that France is undertaking and that they continue to do that in the future," he said.
London and Paris have struck agreements such as the recently-begun construction of a wall on the approach road to Calais port, to attempt to stop migrants who try daily to board cargo trucks bound for Britain.
France plans to relocate the migrants in small groups to 164 reception centres around the country "before winter", but right-wing opponents of the Socialist leader are raising the heat ahead of national elections in April, accusing him of mismanaging a problem that is ultimately a British one.
Local residents in some parts of France earmarked for the asylum centres are vehemently opposed to the move. On a visit to one of the new reception centres in the central city of Tours at the weekend, Mr Hollande declared that France would not be a "country of camps".
But he has been forced to take a stronger stance on the issue, under pressure from brash right-winger Sarkozy and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Both have made immigration and national identity key themes in early campaigning for next year's elections, which echoes the United States race for the White House.
Calais has become a symbol of Europe's failure to resolve the migration crisis that continues to divide the continent, after people fleeing war and misery across the Mediterranean began pouring into Europe in unprecedented numbers.
Rights groups have criticised the hardship and dangers facing the migrants living in the camp, particularly the hundreds of unaccompanied minors.
A 14-year-old Afghan boy was killed by a car earlier this month as he tried to climb aboard a truck.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS