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Tuesday, 11 September, 2001, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
Court rejects camp closure plea
Eurostar train
Refugees try to stow away on trains
A French court has rejected an appeal by Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel to close a refugee camp near Calais.

The company says the Red Cross reception centre at Sangatte is being used by criminal gangs as a base for smuggling asylum seekers into Britain.

A magistrate in Lille said Eurotunnel had failed to prove the urgency of its case for shutting down the camp, which has become the centre for illegal immigrants attempting to cross the channel.

But Eurotunnel's fight will go on, with a full court hearing into its complaint against the running of the camp as a home for asylum seekers going ahead in the next few months.

The UK Home Office says the location of the camp is "not helpful"
Sangatte is a short walk from Eurotunnel's terminal and houses some 1,600 mostly Afghan, Iranian and Kurd immigrants.

On Tuesday, lawyers for Eurotunnel argued that the Sangatte centre had become a recognised staging post for illegal immigration into Britain.

"The proximity of the camp to the tunnel is an open invitation to try to get across," said lawyer Jean-Pierre Bovin.

"It is a centre for the recycling and education of illegal immigrants. It could act as a catalyst for them."

Refugees, mainly Afghans, Iranians, and Kurds, make nightly attempts to stow away on trucks and trains crossing to the UK.

In court Magistrate Jean-Max Brunet was shown a film in which Iraqi traffickers, operating inside the camp, openly discussed fees of around $700 (480) to help immigrants through the tunnel.

England is an eldorado for these people

French government lawyer, Claire Daval
It went on to show the nightly excursions they make from the camp along the road to the tunnel, and the nightly police round-up of the unlucky hopefuls who failed to board passing trains.

Several hundred asylum seekers have been intercepted trying to enter the UK illegally through the tunnel in the past few weeks.

They have been caught either walking along the tracks or stowing away on trains.

UK 'attractive'

But a lawyer for the French authorities, Claire Daval, said the UK was the source of the problem because it was so attractive to asylum seekers.

"England is an eldorado for these people," she said.

She said the French Government's responsibility was to find somewhere for the asylum seekers to be housed - and if they were moved to inland cities they would immediately make their way back to the coast.

"Some refugees were moved to the centre of Paris on one occasion - and they were back in Sangatte before their police escort had returned," she said.

Security review

Eurotunnel says the nature of the camp has changed radically since it opened two years ago, when it catered initially for families from Kosovo.

The company has appointed a former army general to try to cut the number of people illegally entering the UK using the tunnel.

General Sir Roger Wheeler, who commanded British land forces until his retirement last year, has been asked to review the tunnel operator's security procedures in France.

France's ambassador to Britain, Daniel Bernard, has said his country is doing its best to stop illegal immigrants reaching the UK through the Channel Tunnel.

He has also suggested the UK unwittingly lures illegal immigrants with generous welfare payments.

The BBC's Jon Sopel
"Eurotunnel have vowed to appeal against the court ruling"
See also:

11 Sep 01 | Scotland
City to house asylum seekers
09 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Blunkett set to get tough on refugees
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