Keep your Arab Spring migrants, May tells France

Theresa May promised "strong practical action" yesterday to prevent migrants fleeing the turmoil in North Africa from reaching Britain.

The Home Secretary, visiting France to inspect cross-Channel border controls, said there was no evidence yet that refugees from the Arab Spring had arrived in this country. But she added: "We do need to look ahead to what might be happening in the future."

Thousands of migrants from Tunisia and Libya have crossed by sea to Italy, with many heading for France. Italy handed more than 25,000 Tunisians temporary permits to travel, effectively giving them unobstructed travel around much of the European Union.

Ms May has said that the Government is not prepared to "share the burden" of accommodating the new arrivals. "We need lasting practical co-operation and not burden-sharing," she said. "We very much feel we need to be working with countries in North Africa, like Tunisia, to provide practical support through the EU for them to be able to exercise border controls on their borders."

Ms May, after holding talks with her French counterpart, the interior minister, Claude Guéant, said joint operations between Britain and France had cut the number of people trying to get to this country from Calais.

"Continued pressure from illegal immigrants in France is a joint problem for both the UK and France and as such requires a joint solution. We are committed to continuing to ensure the border is impenetrable," she said.

Yesterday's joint visit was the first time a French interior minister has visited the Calais border operations since Nicolas Sarkozy, now President, vowed to close the Red Cross's controversial Sangatte refugee camp when he visited in 2002. The visit also comes the week after MPs accused the UK Border Agency of creating an amnesty for asylum seekers in an immigration system which is "not fit for purpose".

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