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The BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris
"Conditions are basic, criminality rife"
 real 28k

Sunday, 11 February, 2001, 23:29 GMT
Violence at French refugee hostel
French security guards searching stowaways
The hostel houses people stopped from entering the UK
Several dozen people have been injured, two seriously, in a knife fight at a refugee hostel near the French channel port of Calais.

Reports from the scene say an argument between Afghan and Kurdish refugees escalated to the point where, at one stage, 100 people became involved.

Refugees said that the violence in the Sangatte Red Cross Centre was sparked by the presence of a people smuggler who specialises in taking people to the UK.

French riot police were called to deal with the disturbance and eventually restored order.

The centre, a large aircraft hangar converted to a hostel two years ago, is home to hundreds of people from up to 20 different countries.

Most of them have been stopped by the French authorities from going to Britain without the necessary visas.

Tougher measures

A BBC correspondent says that in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the centre, incidents like this are just waiting to happen.

The situation is of growing concern to the French and British governments, he says.

The two countries decided on Friday to tighten measures to prevent illegal immigrants from entering Britain.

At their annual summit, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac agreed to set up a new body, to be known as the Cross-Channel Commission, to improve security on channel crossings.

And the two leaders struck a deal to allow French and British officials to board the cross-channel Eurostar train in each other's country to carry out their own checks.

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See also:

09 Dec 00 | Europe
Calais stowaway checks extended
06 Dec 00 | Europe
Baby found among ferry stowaways
20 Jul 00 | Europe
France targets people smugglers
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