LONDON -- British Prime Minister David Cameron sparked a firestorm Wednesday after calling people who live in camps in the French port town of Calais “a bunch of migrants.”

The controversial language, which was criticized as being dismissive and dehumanizing, came during the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons.

Referring to opposition Labour politicians Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, Cameron said: "They met with a bunch of migrants in Calais; they said they could all come to Britain.”

You can see the clash here:  

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday referred to the people living in the Calais refugee camp in France as a "bunch of migrants.” (

After visiting migrant camps in France over the weekend, Corbyn urged the British government to do more to help migrants with family links to Britain. Cameron said it was the wrong approach and would make Calais “a magnet” for more migrants, many of whom hope to sneak onto trucks bound for the United Kingdom.

Rival politicians wasted no time condemning what they said was Cameron’s “inflammatory” and “divisive” language.

Others said the remarks were unbecoming of a prime minister and had the unintended consequence of making Cameron look “flippant.”

In the Guardian newspaper, columnist Jonathan Freedland said the impact of the phrase on migrants was “to rob them of their individuality and humanity, to write them off as unwanted rabble. It is language we might use about thugs or criminals, not people who have crossed a continent in the desperate search for safety or a better life.”

As desperate migrants continue to pour into Europe, the numbers at camps along the French border have risen sharply. The Belgian prime minister recently wrote  to his French counterpart saying that failing to find a solution was driving migrants toward Belgium.

This is not the first time Cameron has gotten in trouble when talking about migrants in Calais. He once referred to migrants seeking to reach Britain from Calais as “a swarm.” But to use controversial language on Holocaust Memorial Day has been especially upsetting for some.

Some commentators have said that the line may have been intentional. With a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union expected as soon as this summer, it may have been a way for Cameron to signal to anti-immigrant groups that he understands their concerns. Or maybe it was a way to deflect attention from the uneasy questions being asked over Google’s tax affairs.

Or perhaps, as business minister Anna Soubry said, it wasn’t the best choice of language, but it slipped out “in the heat of things.”