Refugees in stand-off in Calais church

12.Nov.02,  first published by BBCnews: read the original article here.

At least 70 refugees have spent their third night in a church in the northern French port of Calais, despite pressure from police, church leaders and humanitarian groups.

Calais has become the penultimate stop for many migrants hoping to enter Britain illegally after the nearby Sangatte Red Cross refugee shelter closed its doors to new admissions last week.

The town's communist mayor, Jacky Henin, offered St Pierre-St Paul church as a temporary shelter for the migrants over the weekend, but gave a deadline of 1500 local time (1400 GMT) on Monday, after which the church would be evacuated by force.

Riot police sealed off the church after those inside ignored the deadline to leave the building.

About 30 did leave on Monday, having accepted offers to file asylum requests for France from shelters outside Calais. But others, having got so far, were unwilling to leave and said they were unsure if they could trust the offer.

"It is a solution that is humane, even if it does not suit their dream of going to Britain. They must understand that their dream does not fit reality," said Bishop Jean-Paul Jaeger, of the northern French city of Arras.

But local campaigners backed the migrants, who say they deserve the same treatment as Sangatte's existing 1,800 residents.

Many refugees have paid large sums of money to flee such trouble spots as Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo, and made long, dangerous journeys hiding on trucks and in containers.

Until Sangatte opened, they had been sleeping rough on beaches and in parks - which resumed after the centre closed.

Some are so desperate to get to Britain that they have threatened to go on hunger strike.

"I have nothing to lose, I have nothing left if it's not the dream of being able to live in England," an Iraqi refugee at the church told Reuters news agency.

"I want to leave France, not to stay here, not in Sangatte, not in Calais, and not in any other centre hundreds of kilometres from Calais," he added.

After three years, the Sangatte centre is set to close for good in April, following an agreement between France and Britain aimed at clamping down on illegal immigration.