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The BBC's Mark Mardell
"British Immigration officials will be able to check passenger's documents on the Eurostar in Paris"
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British Prime Minister Tony Blair
"This is one of the most serious issues that faces Europe at the present time"
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Friday, 9 February, 2001, 17:03 GMT
UK and France strike asylum deal
Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac
Blair and Chirac want the deal to be swiftly implemented
The UK and France have struck a deal to allow immigration officers from each country to operate at both ends of the cross-Channel Eurostar train service.

The proposal was made by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in an attempt to stem the numbers of illegal immigrants flowing into the UK.

French President Jacques Chirac gave his support for the initiative at the Anglo-French summit in the southern French town of Cahors.

We have to find the right way of making sure we treat the genuine case with real dignity

Tony Blair
Hundreds of would-be asylum seekers use the Eurostar service from Paris to gain entry into the UK.

They avoid passport checks by buying tickets as far as Calais and then remaining on the train until the UK terminus at Waterloo where they apply for asylum.

Under the agreement - which President Chirac has pledged will be made law swiftly - British immigration officers will be based at the Paris Gare du Nord station.

French officials will get similar rights at the UK end of the line.

The scheme should be in place by the summer, Downing Street said.

Speaking after the announcement, the two leaders spelt out the details of their agreement.

Common efforts

Mr Blair said he was "delighted" at the way discussions had gone and said the measures that the UK and France are now committed to would make a serious impact on the problem of illegal immigration which he said was affecting the whole of Europe.

"We have to find the right way of making sure we treat the genuine case with real dignity, but take action against the illegal trafficking of human beings," the prime minister said.

For his part Mr Chirac stressed to reporters that the subject of illegal immigration "needs to be tackled jointly".

Cross-channel initiatives

The issue of the Channel Tunnel has arisen as many people, some thought to be economic migrants, are using Eurostar trains to reach Britain where around 400 a month are claiming asylum at London's Waterloo station.

During the talks Mr Blair also raised the issue of how to prevent Channel port blockades, which have in the past hampered the movement of goods by hauliers and disrupted the flow of holidaymakers.

Rapid reaction

Britain and France also discussed the planned European rapid reaction force.

Currently there remains some disagreement over the precise nature of the relationship between the force and Nato.

A French official said Mr Chirac had agreed in his meeting with Mr Blair that the rapid reaction force should "reinforce the Atlantic Alliance, not weaken it".

The two leaders also discussed American plans for a "son of star wars" missile defence shield, with Mr Chirac repeating the French view that the programme would lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The French official said Mr Blair had remained non-committal on the subject.

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