U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron was criticized Thursday after he used the word “swarm” to describe the flood of immigrants into Europe from North Africa.
Opposition leaders accused the premier of employing dehumanizing language about people who have gathered near Calais in northern France in the hope of getting to Britain illegally through the Channel Tunnel.
“He should remember he’s talking about people, not insects,” Harriet Harman, the acting head of the main opposition Labour Party, told Sky News television. “He’s been warned about this for months; just using inflammatory language isn’t going to help.”
Cameron made the comments during a visit to Vietnam in response to questions about the crisis at Calais, where hundreds of people have repeatedly attempted to enter the tunnel and stow away on vehicles crossing to Britain. One would-be migrant was killed when he was crushed by a truck on Tuesday, and there have been calls from some British politicians to send U.K. troops to assist French police in the area.
“This is very testing, I accept that, because you have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain,” Cameron said in an interview with ITV News. “We need to protect our borders by working hand-in-glove with our neighbors the French, and that is exactly what we are doing.”
Andy Burnham, a contender for the Labour leadership, said in a Twitter post that Cameron’s use of the word “swarm” was “nothing short of disgraceful.”
“By blaming ‘migrant swarms’ for the current crisis in Calais, David Cameron risks dehumanizing some of the world’s most desperate people,” Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said in a statement. “By using the prime minister’s language we lose sight of how desperate someone has to be to cling to the bottom of a lorry or a train for the chance of a better life.”
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett also joined the criticism. “No David Cameron, ’swarms’ isn’t an appropriate word for desperate, homeless human beings, including children, fleeing persecution and war,” she said on Twitter.