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Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 09:44 GMT 10:44 UK
Closing Sangatte 'not enough'
French entrance to Channel Tunnel
EWS services have suffered in recent months
The freight rail company EWS says closing the Sangatte refugee camp will not stop asylum seekers from trying to enter Britain via the Channel Tunnel.

EWS services have been disrupted since French authorities reduced the number of trains using the tunnel, because of regular attempts by asylum seekers to climb on board.

The company appealed to the European Parliament on Wednesday, claiming France was breaking European law by failing to prevent the incursions.

Graham Smith, planning director at EWS, said simply closing Sangatte would not solve the problem.


The scenario could be thousands of asylum seekers sleeping rough and invading the freight yard daily

Philip Mengel
EWS chief executive
The "key issue" was ensuring proper security measures were established at the French end of the tunnel, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"It is speculation at the moment [that Sangatte may close] and it may help," he said.

"But bear in mind Sangatte was opened because asylum seekers were sleeping rough in the Calais area.

"Whilst it may remove a focal point, we still have a distinct risk that asylum seekers will be trying to get to Britain using freight services through the tunnel.

"The key issue is still putting security in place."

'Cost to Britain'

EWS has petitioned the European Parliament, calling for both fencing and policing at the French railways yard in Calais to be improved.

The company believes France is breaching its obligation to allow free trade movements around Europe.

Sangatte refugee camp
The Sangatte refugee camp is located near the tunnel
Mr Smith said the disruption had cost not just EWS, but Britain's interests as well.

"It is costing us millions and it has been hurting international rail freight, which is a key part of the government's transport strategy," he told Today.

EWS says it has been forced to cancel 3,000 journeys through the tunnel over the last six months, costing 10m.

This has seen the return of almost 90,000 lorries to the British and European road networks.

Security measures

Tougher security measures were announced by French railway authorities last week at the freight depot near the tunnel entrance.

The state-owned French railway company, SNCF, plans to install infra-red cameras and an extra layer of fencing and barbed wire around the existing fence.

But EWS wants a round-the-clock operation to be restored.

Currently, a maximum 55 gendarmes patrol the yard, but only for four hours a day. There is no policing at all from midnight on Saturday to 5pm Monday.

Philip Mengel, EWS chief executive, welcomed the proposed closure of Sangatte, but said the government should not "lose sight of the urgent need for proper policing and fencing at the Frethun rail freight yard".

"If the camp closes and no security measures are delivered, the scenario could be thousands of asylum seekers sleeping rough and invading the freight yard daily to get to Britain on freight trains."

'Victim not cause'

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) said in a statement that while closing Sangatte would "clearly not solve the problem", it would "dilute the concentration of people and criminals intent on illegal and dangerous activity to the endangerment, inconvenience and cost of the UK international transport industry".

It added: "FTA members have long resented government treatment of the transport industry as the cause of the problem rather than as the victim of the problem."

Officials said the issue had led to 14m fines being imposed on truckers and companies, had reduced business and caused cross-Channel freight cancellations.

The FTA announced last week it would be appealing to the House of Lords over the government's policy of fining drivers and firms 2,000 per stowaway.


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23 May 02 | UK Politics
11 Feb 02 | Business
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