(AFP) – Plans to create new migrant centres across France notably to house thousands moved from Calais’ notorious Jungle camp were condemned by right-wing critics on Tuesday as “irresponsible” and at risk of sparking a “civil war”.
The Socialist-led government believes some 12,000 places are needed by the end of the year, much more than previously thought, according to a leaked interior ministry document.
The figure includes providing long-term shelter to migrants from the Calais camp, which the government has vowed to dismantle, as well as another transit centre due to open in Paris in mid-October.
The document, revealed by Le Figaro newspaper and seen by AFP, involves plans for migrant centres across the country apart from Paris and the Mediterranean island of Corsica, where the foreign population is the highest.
The interior ministry has promised a “consultation” but the document triggered angry reactions including from the far-right National Front, which called it an “irresponsible distribution plan”.
The right-wing Les Republicains of former president Nicolas Sarkozy — hoping to return to the Elysee Palace in elections next year — denounced it even more strongly, calling it a “state scandal”.
Immigration and fears of terrorism are top public issues in France ahead of presidential elections in April and May next year, with the National Front and Sarkozy in particular seeking to present a hardline to voters.
Accusing the Socialist government of planning to create “hundreds of Calais (camps) distributed across the country,” a Les Republicains spokesman called the plans a “migration diktat” which “does nothing other than create conditions for national disunity and therefore a civil war.”
In a statement the party proposed setting up a reception centre in Britain to deal with migrants’ applications, as well as “the restoration of controls on national borders” and “the ending of welfare benefits for foreigners who can’t prove they have a job and a home in France”.
Immigration is a key issue in France as politicians gear up for primary elections on the left and right ahead of next year’s presidential polls.
France did not follow EU partner Germany’s opening of its borders to the massive influx of migrants into Europe last year but Calais has for several years attracted waves of migrants hoping to cross from the continent to Britain.
Two weeks ago French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve pledged to dismantle the Jungle camp — which houses an estimated 7,000-9,000 migrants — as rapidly as possible.