PARIS — The mayor of Calais is considering closing the French city's lucrative port if Britain doesn't make a "strong gesture" to control a growing tide of migrants trying to sneak across the English Channel.
Natacha Bouchart's threat Tuesday comes amid mounting tensions in Calais and a Europe-wide debate over how to cope with rising immigration.
Calais is the stepping stone for migrants from poor countries in the Mideast, Asia and Africa who are trying to reach Britain, which they see as an Eldorado. Many believe that Britain will provide them easier access to residency and prosperity than other European countries.
Bouchart told reporters in Paris that the migrants are draining the coffers of Calais and making life difficult for residents.
She wants British officials to come to Calais to take stock of the problem and to revise the country's legislation to dissuade immigrants from traveling there. She estimates that at least 1,300 migrants are now in Calais, a city of 75,000.
"This is taking my city and the population hostage," she said. "I have means to pressure... I could make the decision to block the port."
"Today, I want a strong gesture from the British government so they admit there is a problem," she said.
Bouchart, who is also a senator, spoke after meeting Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve. She said he approved her proposal to create a day center for migrants, who live in squats and makeshift camps.
Cazeneuve discussed the Calais tensions last week in London with his British counterpart Theresa May, and both said they were "determined to respond together" to the security and economic difficulties the city faces linked to the migrants.
They promised to increase security measures and efforts against human trafficking, and to try to "dissipate the myths" that draw so many migrants to Britain.