London, AP/Reuters—British Prime Minister David Cameron is facing criticism for using the word “swarm” to describe migrants trying to get into Britain through the Channel Tunnel.
Cameron told ITV News that the situation is “very testing,” and that it was brought on by Britain’s growing economy.
“You have a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, because Britain has got jobs,” he said on Thursday.
A candidate for leadership of the opposition Labour Party, Andy Burnham, described the remark as “disgraceful.” Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “We are talking about human beings here, not insects.”
Cameron was questioned amid chaos near the tunnel in Calais, where large numbers of migrants have been scaling fences and trying to get aboard freight trains or trucks bound for Britain.
On Friday Cameron drew up plans to help France tackle the spike in migrant activity at the tunnel.
He drafted the plans at a meeting of the government’s emergency response committee “Cobra” after some politicians called for the army to reinforce border controls.
“We’re going to take action right across the board. Starting with helping the French on their side of the border, we’re going to put in more fencing, more resources, more sniffer dog teams, more assistance in any way we can,” Cameron said afterwards.
“This is going to be a difficult issue right across the summer.”
Cameron, who will speak to French President François Hollande later on Friday, also said government land would be used to ease disruption caused by queuing lorries on the British side of the Channel.
Re-elected in May, Cameron has promised to cut net annual migration to Britain to the tens of thousands, a pledge he failed to keep during his 2010–2015 term in office when it hit a near record high of over 300,000 people.
The issue is a sensitive one as it plays into Britain’s debate about Europe ahead of an EU membership referendum Cameron has promised by the end of 2017.
Migrants have long gathered in Calais to try to get into Britain. But Eurotunnel, the firm that runs freight and passenger shuttles via the Channel Tunnel, says numbers have swelled to around 5,000 people from about 600 and that it is struggling to cope.
It says migrants have also become better organized, mounting nightly attempts in large groups to storm the facilities.
Eurotunnel has sometimes been forced to suspend its services, causing disruption at what is one of the busiest times of the year for British holidaymakers.
The situation has caught the imagination of Britain’s tabloid newspapers, becoming a political headache for Cameron.
He is under pressure to get tough on the migrants from many lawmakers in his ruling Conservatives.