Members of the far right on both sides of the Channel have allied in condemnation of a humane move by French rail operator SNCF, which wants to give migrants free travel. An internal document sent to staff at the government owned company said fees could be waived under certain circumstances to show "humanity."
SNCF chiefs said the move would help "abnormally large group of individuals wanting to board without tickets towards a specific destination". Reported by French newspaper 'Le Figaro', the memo continued: “Some routes can hand out, if conditions permit it, zero-euro bookings for exceptional measures to ease regulating life on board and the comfort of other passengers.”
Following the report, French politicians condemned SNFC for giving foreigners preferential treatment.
"There shouldn't be free trains for immigrants," said Xavier Bertrand of the opposition Republic Party. "It's not right, it's intolerable. SNCF and the state must explain this situation."
Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, added: "By helping illegal migrants with their journeys, you must realise that you are only making the situation worse in Calais, and all camps along the Channel coast. Many of these illegal migrants are seeking to reach England. It is irresponsible to allow entire groups of people to calmly travel and join all those already squashed into insalubrious camps, where they are prey to dealers and gangsters."
Mike Hookem, a Ukip MEP, offered stock accusatory cliché:
So now we know the French answer to the migrant crisis; get them to Calais to try their luck getting to the UK http://t.co/yIsFzpBswM— Mike Hookem MEP (@MikeHookemMEP) October 14, 2015
Meanwhile, 'The Sun' newspaper splashed its outrage across the front page of Thursday's edition:
Thursday's Sun front page:
One-oui tickets to CalaisOctober 14, 2015
Speaking to AFP, Christophe Piednoël, head of information at SNCF, sought to clarify the situation on Wednesday evening. “What’s been put in place is possible free booking to attribute numbered seats to migrants so they remain grouped together and to avoid any risk of conflict between passengers if migrants take seats reserved by others,” he said.
“These people are controlled like anyone else, must have a ticket like anyone else, can be fined like anyone else," Piednoël added. "For us, these are not cheats looking to exploit the system. These are people very often in an exceptional situation of distress and fatigue. It is normal to handle them with humanity."