- - Wednesday, August 27, 2014

LONDON — Tensions are growing between British and French officials as unprecedented numbers of immigrants hoping to reach Britain amass across the English Channel in the French port city of Calais, focusing attention on the United Kingdom’s immigration policy ahead of national elections in 2015.

Calais has been taken hostage,” said the city’s deputy mayor and immigration chief Philippe Mignonet, who in part blamed a British-French agreement for burdening his city — and essentially extending Britain’s border to French shores. “There are migrants who arrive each day, and each day some who succeed in getting to Britain.”

Nearly 2,000 immigrants, mainly from Africa and the Middle East, have gathered in Calais, many of them fleeing war and poverty to seek asylum in the U.K. They are placing intense pressure on French resources, aid agencies and police as the asylum seekers clash amid overcrowding in illegal camps.

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Britain has said it will not change its border control arrangement with France, which stipulates that immigration checks must be carried out before migrants board cross-channel ferries from sea ports in either country.

“The security of the U.K. border is our priority and juxtaposed controls help play a vital part in stopping those who have no right to be here from entering the U.K.,” said a spokesman for the British Home Office, which is the government department responsible for immigration. “We are taking action at a national and international level to tackle this issue and the organized criminality behind illegal immigration.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Mignonet announced last week that French authorities will be begin destroying a camp for illegal immigrants in Calais.

“The camp will be dismantled. All depends on the Home Office minister to give the instructions to do so,” he told London’s Daily Express newspaper.

The French immigration chief noted the allure of Britain’s illegal labor market and London’s cosmopolitan character in attracting immigrants in search of a better life.

“They might leave with three pounds, but when they arrive in England they can make 50 pounds a week on the black market,” Mr. Mignonet said. “England is too attractive. It’s too easy.”

Immigration is expected to be a hot-button issue in next year’s elections in Britain.

According to the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics, in the year ending March 2014, Britain received:

23,731 asylum applications — a 5 percent increase over the previous year.

156,378 work visa applications — a 10 percent increase.

219,053 study-related visa applications — a 6 percent increase.

Applicants for asylum mainly came from Eritrea, Syria and Albania, but asylum applications represent only a fraction of all British-bound immigration — which, in 2013, topped more than half a million migrants from the European Union and elsewhere, up from 498,000 the previous year.

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