UN rep accuses UK of ‘exaggerating’ Calais migrant crisis

A migrant mother holds her child as she sits on the grass with other migrants at nightfall in Coquelles, near Calais, France. © Pascal Rossignol
The UN’s special representative on migration has said he is “amazed” by the UK’s reaction to the ongoing migrant crisis in Calais, saying the authorities have exaggerated the scale of the situation in order to ratchet up international tensions.

Peter Sutherland said the crisis was humanitarian rather than economic, and criticized the government for failing to tackle the poor conditions of migrants in the Calais camp.

His comments come after the government revealed that Ministry of Defence (MoD) officers could take part in easing traffic congestion building around the Kent coastline after Channel services were disrupted by thousands of migrants storming the tunnel earlier in the week.

Sutherland, a former businessman, said the crisis had been “exaggerated beyond belief” and had been used to “inflame tensions.”

“The first thing we have to do collectively is to deal with their conditions,” he said.

“Instead of talking about sending Gurkhas or building fences, we should be thinking of the humanitarian crisis.”

READ MORE: Send military to tackle Calais migrant crisis, say police chiefs

“Anybody who thinks that by erecting borders or fences in some way a particular state can be protected from alleged ‘floods’ – which are anything but floods – of migrants is living in cloud cuckoo land,” he said.

Tory MP Andrew Percy called Sutherland's comments “pathetic.”

He said: “The best response assorted do-gooders in the UN can come up with, when the government tries to secure our border and respond to the concerns the British people have, is to accuse ministers – and by extension the public – of xenophobia.”

His remarks come as the MoD outlines plans which could see military owned land used to temporarily park trucks to ease traffic congestion on the M20 in Kent, which is currently being used to house hundreds of freight vehicles as part of Operation Stack.

The Telegraph quoted one source saying a decision on the plans would be “taken in due course,” adding they would be carried out by civilian authorities rather than the military.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who returned to the UK after a four-day trip to Southeast Asia on Thursday, will chair a meeting of the government’s emergency COBRA committee on Friday morning.

It is understood he will ask ministers what further steps can be taken to address the ongoing crisis in Calais.

Cameron came under fire on Wednesday for referring to migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean as a “swarm.”

The traffic chaos has caused one Pembrokeshire haulage company to halt its overseas operations.

Peter Harding, the owner of the firm, said migrants at Calais recently broke into a container containing pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. The load was compromised and rendered unusable.

He told BBC Radio Wales: “People don’t realize you get migrants on there and they are urinating on pallets of goods and food supplies.

“There has to be an end to this.”

“We’ve put up with this for the last nine years, recently, over the last six months it has got a lot worse,” he added.