Home Secretary Alan Johnson has denied that Britain will be forced to take migrants from the “Calais Jungle” camp which has been shut by French police. “Reports that the UK will be forced to take illegal immigrants from the ‘Jungle’ are wrong,” he said. Mr Johnson said refugees should apply for protection in the first EU country that they reach.

Migrant groups say the camp closure will only shift the problem elsewhere in Europe. The makeshift camp has replaced official centres like Sangatte as a gathering point for migrants hoping to cross to Britain.

Mr Johnson welcomed the “swift and decisive” clearance, and said Britain was working closely with France to prevent illegal immigration and people trafficking.

Immigration minister Phil Woolas said the migrants had no right to claim asylum in the UK, and he questioned whether they were genuine asylum seekers. “If they were fleeing persecution they have the right to claim asylum in the first country of entry as they leave their own countries,” he told the BBC.

However, Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the Migrationwatch think-tank, suggested that Britain’s immigration policy was part of the problem. “This is a welcome decision but it will not tackle the root cause of the problem, namely that Britain is regarded as a ‘soft touch’. “Why else would people be queuing up in Calais?” he added. Sir Andrew said the government should be more serious about removing failed asylum seekers, and rule out absolutely any talk of an amnesty.

Richard Ashworth, Conservative MEP for South East England, said the decision to close the camp was long overdue, but the French government needed to do more if the situation is to be resolved. “It is now incumbent on the French government to deal with illegal immigration at the point of entry into France, and not simply funnel them through creating this sorry bottleneck along the Pas de Calais and Normandy coasts,” he says.

The UK Independence Party (UKIP) Euro MP Nigel Farage told the BBC that the government needs to take a tougher stance, and stand up to France.

Refugee campaigners have welcomed the closure of the camp, but warned that the problem will shift elsewhere. “It is quite right that it should be shut down,” said Dan Hodges from the charity Refugee Action. “But while it is possible to sweep away the camp, you can’t simply sweep away the problem.”

Makeshift camps sprang up in Calais following the closure of the Red Cross camp in Sangatte in 2002. Some observers fear that things will be no different this time. “I remember seven years ago when former home secretary, David Blunkett, and the then French minister of the interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, congratulated themselves on the closure,” said Keith Best of the Immigration Advisory Service. “But the hundreds of asylum seekers merely moved to the dockside of Calais. The liquidation of the jungle will have the same transitory effect,” he suggested. Mr Best said it was very difficult to claim asylum in France, and the French were not playing their part despite obligations under the Geneva Convention.

Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the closure was dealing with symptoms rather than the cause, and the big question was what happened to the migrants now. “We hope that all the people, including the very vulnerable, like women and children on their own who are trying to get to a place of safety, are given access to an asylum system. “This is a European-wide problem which needs a solution at European level,” she said.