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Monday, 3 September, 2001, 21:01 GMT 22:01 UK
Blunkett demands refugee summit
Sangatte refugee reception camp
Eurotunnel wants Sangatte closed
Home Secretary David Blunkett has demanded a meeting with his French counterpart over the growing problem of cross-Channel illegal immigration.

The move comes as the row over French plans for more refugee accommodation near the Channel intensifies.

The Red Cross camp at Sangatte near the Channel Tunnel has been branded a "staging post" for illegal immigrants on their way to the UK.

The possibility of a second camp ... doesn't sound like a particularly helpful suggestion at this time

Home Office
Mr Blunkett wants to meet the French interior minister Daniel Vaillant next week to identify new ways to tackle the difficulties at Sangatte.

Eurotunnel is taking legal action to get the camp closed after a series of increasingly desperate attempts by refugees from the camp to stow away on trains or even walk through the tunnel.

Throughout Monday morning, the Prime Minister's office insisted Sangatte was only a matter for the Red Cross and the French government.

Overcrowded camp

But a growing storm of protest and newspaper criticism preceded Mr Blunkett's statement.

It was thought the French were planning to tackle overcrowding at Sangatte by establishing another major camp inland at Bailleul.

Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe
The UK needs to rethink its asylum system, says Ann Widdecombe
But the French employment ministry has now said that there will be several smaller camps set up in the north-east of the country to hold 1,000 people.

Most of the illegal immigrants are quickly caught by police and returned to the camp but Eurotunnel could soon face fines of up to 2,000 for every one carried to the UK.

"We are aware that the Red Cross has had preliminary discussions with a view to establishing a further site in northern France," said a Home Office spokesman.

"The home secretary has already indicated that he realises that the location of the existing camp is unhelpful.

Refugees intercepted

"The possibility of a second camp ... doesn't sound like a particularly helpful suggestion at this time."

On Sunday, 100 asylum seekers were intercepted trying to enter the UK illegally through the Channel Tunnel.

It was the third attempt in less than a week.

In a separate incident another 40 illegal immigrants were found in the back of a lorry at the port of Dover, in Kent, on Sunday.

German lorry driver Andreas Mentzel, 29, was remanded in custody on Monday after pleading guilty to smuggling the illegal immigrants into the country.

Marc Gentilini, of the French Red Cross, said the statements from Eurotunnel may have caused more illegal immigrants to set off for Britain.

Political problem

He said it would be "stupid" to close the centre as more people were arriving in the area.

The Deputy Mayor of Calais, Jean Marc Ben, said closing the refugee camp would have no effect on stopping illegal immigration into Britain.

He said: "Calais has become a natural and inevitable crossing point. The problem is a political problem. France and Britain are passing the buck."

Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe said the camp was "effectively facilitating the illegal entry of people into Britain".

But Ms Widdecombe said illegal immigrants were trying their luck in the UK rather than France because of a lax deportation regime for failed applicants.

The BBC's Gavin Hewitt
"The French government hinted that Britain is too attractive for asylum seekers"
Marc Jenpilini, President of the French Red Cross
"[Closing the camp] is as stupid as if I said to close the tunnel"
The BBC's Niall Dickson
"Refugee organisations are clear this worldwide problem cannot be tackled by the UK alone"
See also:

03 Sep 01 | Scotland
Asylum 'prison' campaign hots up
26 Mar 01 | UK
Stowaway fines 'unfair'
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