The British minister in charge of security and immigration told fellow lawmakers that migrants crossed the channel to Britain because they believe France is a "racist country" and they may be subjected to "torture" there, media reports said Sunday.
Secretary of State for the Home Department Priti Patel made the comments in a conference call with lawmakers after a rise in the number of people traveling from France to Britain in small, inflatable dinghies, reports in several of Britain's newspapers said.
The Mail on Sunday quoted a government source as saying that Patel made clear the views were those of migrants and not her own.
Patel's remarks came in a conference call with a group of Conservative members of Parliament concerned about the sharp rise in the number of small boats carrying migrants crossing the channel from France.
Patel said many migrants make the perilous voyage believing Britain will treat them more fairly, adding that Britain's reputation as a tolerant country is a big draw for many.
One of the lawmakers, whose identity was not revealed, was quoted as telling local media that Patel "told us some believe racism to be an issue" when asked why migrants would want to reach the U.K.
"They claim they feel discriminated against when, for example, looking for work in France. Others claimed they feared being tortured if they stayed in France or Germany," the lawmaker told the Sun on Sunday.
"Priti stressed that she didn't believe any of this to be true. She was merely trying to explain the pull factors," they said.
But another unidentified lawmaker on the call was quoted as saying that she was left with the impression that Patel "did believe the French were racist."
"She was calling them racist and she is right. They are more racist than us," the lawmaker told the Sunday Times.
The French government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Asked for a response to Patel's comments, the Home Office said Sunday that Patel was frustrated by the increasing number of boats crossing the Channel and was working to have legislation ready once Britain left the transition period from the European Union at the end of this year.
Britain and France have agreed to work together to close down the migration route after hundreds of people, including some children, made the crossing from makeshift camps in northern France across one of the world's busiest shipping routes.
Britain had indicated it would be willing to pay if the two countries could come up with a shared plan to work together.
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