Sunday, 22 March 2009

The truth about a new Detention Centre in Calais

Maybe it's the language, or maybe it's the unfamiliarity of both French and English journalists with building costs, but the diplomatic row over whether or not there will be a new detention centre for immigrants in Calais is a damp squib.

The answer is yes. And no. Headlines about a Calais 'Guantanamo' are wholly misleading. French denials that anything at all has been agreed are untrue. The closest to have the truth is the Telegraph.

For those who know Calais port, just on the ship-side corner of the modest terminal building is a little cluster of portakabins that are forever England. Here is where our immigration officers retire for a calming cup of tea, and where the odd illegal migrant they manage to catch is held. It's been agreed to replace this with a small but more substantially constructed block that has proper cells. The cost is £470k. Even with the downturn in the industry, £470k doesn't get you a Guantanamo. With building costs of £3k - £3.5k / m2, you'll get around 150 m2 of building. About the size of a church hall. Or a tea-room and three or four cells with a couple of toilets.

With crass ministerial hyperbole, Phil Woolas trumpeted this as a new 'detention centre' that would deter the thousands of Kurds, Afghanis, Iraqis and Africans trying to jump on lorries. Unsurprisingly his French opposite number Eric Besson said he had no knowledge of it. Which, unless French civil servants keep their ministers apprised of every new British tea-hut and toilet built in France, was undoubtedly true.

1 comment:

it's either banned or compulsory said...

Many, many years ago, my then employer took all the staff on a day trip to Calais by way of a 'thank you'.
After the obligatory lunch I wandered off into what remained of the Old Town and happied myself in a record shop, buying a couple of jazz LPs.
Returning to our ship I found myself walking along the causeway that leads to the embarkation point some several hundred yards seawards. Oops, wrong side of the 10' fence thinks I. mmmh, return to shore ? Nope.
Climb over the chain link fence where it passes underneath the mushroom shaped control tower ? Yup.
Blag the Purser for a pass ? easy.

I do hope things have tightened up since then.