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The BBC's Jane Warr
"The move will affect thousands of holidaymakers"
 real 28k

Saturday, 9 December, 2000, 12:07 GMT
Calais stowaway checks extended
Car boarding ferry
Cars and coaches will be checked before returning to the UK
Car and coach drivers waiting for cross-Channel ferries at Calais will be subject to new checks for illegal immigrants.

Ferry operator P&O Stena Line is launching the new scheme as an extension to its initiative against stowaways on lorries entering the UK.

The firm has hired 40 security guards to check cars and coaches waiting to board Calais-to-Dover ferries.

P&O spokesman Vivienne Macey said the checks were designed to protect its car customers who could be targeted next.

"We fear that as illegal immigrants are so desperate to get to Britain they could start using private cars to get round our checks on freight lorries," she said.

P&O said it would not need to hire any more security staff to carry out the checks because they only took 30 seconds per car.

"Checks on cars are very rapid, so will not slow down services," Ms Macey said.

"Motorists that have been checked so far have welcomed them."

The scheme will affect thousands of motorists returning from France after Christmas shopping trips.

Breath tests

It follows the successful introduction last week of P&O's lorry searches using devices which detect carbon dioxide emissions, a sign of human breathing.

About 70 stowaways, including a baby girl and her mother, were discovered in the first three days of checks on the cross-Channel lorries.

Car drivers face the same fines of up to 2,000 for each illegal immigrant brought into the UK, under the extension of the Asylum Act introduced in April this year.

Mother and baby found stowed away in Calais
A baby and her mother found by authorities in a lorry check
Individual lorry drivers have paid about 7m in fines since April, and P&O has been fined 100,000 in that time.

People of all nationalities attempt to make the crossing, many undeterred by the dangers or risk of being caught.

Many would-be illegal immigrants are believed to come from a Red Cross camp which is home to about 800 people in Sangatte, just south of Calais.

It is estimated that between 6,000 and 7,000 asylum seekers try to enter the UK each month.

The Calais Chamber of Commerce says about 100 people a day are arrested around the port on suspicion of attempting to enter the UK illegally.

The ferry operator plans to introduce similar lorry checks at the Belgian port of Zeebrugge from where a lorry containing 58 dead Chinese stowaways had travelled to Britain.

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06 Dec 00 | Europe
Baby found among ferry stowaways
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