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Wednesday, 26 December, 2001, 09:56 GMT
Mass attempt to breach tunnel
Danger sign near Eurotunnel entrance
Barbed wire guards the entrances to the tunnel
About 150 would-be asylum seekers have been arrested inside the Channel Tunnel, as 400 more tried to storm French security to cross illegally into the UK.

Trains were stopped for 10 hours after the 150 broke through fencing and travelled on foot about a quarter of the way into the tunnel.

Eurotunnel said French riot police used tear gas to force back another 400 trying to storm its Calais compound three hours later.

And it renewed its calls for the nearby Red Cross Sangatte refugee centre to be closed down.

The 150, who broke through at about 2015 GMT on Christmas Day, are the third group of would-be asylum seekers to have forced their way by foot into the tunnel.

Recent tunnel breaches
25 Dec: About 150 caught inside tunnel
6 Nov: 74 found hiding on trains
30 Oct: 154 arrested in Calais freight terminal
2 Sep: 100 caught in Coquelles compound
31 Aug: 80 caught in Coquelles compound
30 Aug: 44 held after walking miles into tunnel

Spokeswoman Anna Leva said: "We saw them coming on our CCTV cameras but it was impossible to stop them. We had approximately 20 guards there but they had no chance."

The overwhelmed security staff immediately called the police. Kent police sealed off the English end of the tunnel, and about 60 officers helped French police search the tunnel and round up the intruders.

Services disrupted

Hundreds of passengers were put up overnight in hotels in the UK and France as the police searched the tunnel.

Eurotunnel said 80 cars and four coaches had been forced to delay their trip from the UK to France, as had another 30 cars and one coach in the opposite direction.

On Christmas Day and Boxing Day there are no Eurostar passenger trains, but there are two shuttle trains an hour on which passengers cross in their vehicles.

Eurotunnel spokesman Kevin Charles said the refugees had assumed it would be quiet on Christmas Day, "and used that as an opportunity because we have cut off their means of getting to the UK."

Sangatte row

The tunnel was closed until 0645 GMT when services resumed as normal.

The group were taken to Sangatte, about 2km away, where about 1,600 refugees are housed.

We were surprised that the Sangatte centre didn't warn us that a large group had left the centre

Anna Leva

Eurotunnel believes the group originally came from the camp - which it has been fighting for nearly a year to close down.

Ms Leva added: "We were surprised that the Sangatte centre didn't warn us that a large group had left the centre."

But BBC correspondent Helen Callaghan said Sangatte had claimed nobody was missing.

Mr Charles said the incident was yet another example of why the French Government should close Sangatte.

"We have spent 5 million on security arrangements so far and government has done nothing and left us in this situation where we have a refugee centre 2km from the tunnel."

Eurotunnel claims to have intercepted 18,500 stowaways during the first half of the year - many of whom had been living in Sangatte.

The BBC's Helen Callaghan
"French and British police searched the tunnel all night"
Inspector Adrian Allen from Kent Police
"This matter is being dealt with by the French authorities"
See also:

22 Nov 01 | England
Call for troops to stop stowaways
15 Nov 01 | UK Politics
UK could join refugee quota scheme
29 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Asylum seekers to get ID cards
13 Sep 01 | Europe
France denies second refugee camp
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