CALAIS France (Reuters) - French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, seizing on tensions over illegal immigrants in the northern port town of Calais, called on Friday for urgent reintroduction of internal border controls that were banished across much of Europe.
Le Pen, whose anti-immigrant National Front party came first in France in European Parliament elections last June, made the call during a visit to the town, where riot police used teargas this week to ward off hundreds of immigrants seeking to jump on to trucks bound for Britain.
Seizing on the latest sharp escalation of tensions, Le Pen denounced what she described as the “phenomenal scandal” of a town left to its own devices in the face of an exponential rise in the number of illegal immigrants seeking to get across the Channel to Britain.
“It’s time to wage war on this phenomenon,” Le Pen, whose party won about 14 percent of the vote in Calais town hall elections last March.
Roughly 2,300 immigrants, many of them from Africa, are roaming the streets and sleeping in makeshift camps in and around Calais while waiting to attempt the final leg of their bid to reach Britain, according to estimates from the local prefect’s office. The number was 1,500 just a few months ago.
Police, who had to deploy tear gas to contain hordes of immigrants on several occasions this week, kept dozens of supporters and opponents of Le Pen apart as the National Front leader arrived in the town, with some minor scuffles reported.
“The rule of law no longer holds sway in Calais. Now it’s no more than a jungle where violence and the survival of the fittest reign,” said Le Pen.
The port has long been a magnet for illegal migrants trying to reach Britain, where they believe they are more likely to find work. Britain is not one of the 26 European states who have abolished internal borders under the Schengen agreement.
In September, the French and British governments announced that the Calais port layout would be changed to make it easier to carry out controls and improve traffic flow, with barriers put up along the bypass leading to the port area.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has also promised a day-center will be opened to cater to the hundreds of illegal immigrants who roam the streets and live in squats or makeshift camps.
Denis Robin, prefect in the Pas-de-Calais region, said the center should be open in November but that the authorities were determined to ensure it would not become a massive residential camp of the kind that was run by the Red Cross - the Sangatte camp - before ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered it shut in 2002 at Britain’s request.
Reporting by Johnny Cotton in Calais, Pierre Savary in Lille and Gerard Bon in Paris; Writing by Brian Love