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Thursday, 30 May, 2002, 18:46 GMT 19:46 UK
France mulls switch on Afghan refugees
Refugees at the Sangatte Red Cross camp
40% of the refugees at Sangatte are Afghans
The new French interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, has suggested that Afghan citizens should no longer qualify for asylum.

"The Taleban are no longer in power," he told Le Monde newspaper. "Must we continue to grant (Afghan people) political refugee status? I don't think so."

Sangatte
Opened 1999 to house refugees sleeping rough
Meant to house 600
Currently houses about 1,300
Run by Red Cross
An estimated 100 residents reach the UK each week
28,000 have passed through altogether
Mr Sarkozy reiterated a call for the harmonisation of asylum rules across the European Union, which is expected to be the main focus of a EU summit in Spain next month.

The French interior minister also confirmed that he intends to close down a controversial Red Cross camp for illegal immigrants at Sangatte, near Calais, in northern France.

Asylum seekers staying there try to reach Britain on board the trains linking the two countries. No date for closing the camp has been set.

Restive population

Mr Sarkozy said 50% of the asylum-seekers at Sangatte were Kurds, and 40% Afghans.

Last week Mr Sarkozy said the closure of the Sangatte camp was an "objective" because of concerns raised by both Britain and local residents.

French Interior minister Nicholas Sarkozy
Sarkozy wants tighter EU asylum rules
"Everyone understands that closing down Sangatte can be - must be - a goal, but cannot come first.

"If we do it too quickly, it would create more problems for the residents, for the locals, than it would solve."

The BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris says Mr Sarkozy wants Britain to make itself less attractive to asylum-seekers and new controls on the EU's external frontiers.

Mr Sarkozy visited Sangatte on Thursday last week - he was the first French minister to do so since the camp opened in 1999.

Our correspondent says Mr Sarkozy discovered angry locals, an overstretched police force and an increasingly restive population of young Kurds and Afghans crammed into the Red Cross hangar.


Talking PointTALKING POINT
Sangatte
Is closing the camp the solution?
 VOTE RESULTS
Should Britain take some of the Sangatte refugees?

Yes
 20.58% 

No
 79.41% 

8004 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


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24 May 02 | Europe
24 May 02 | UK Politics
23 May 02 | UK Politics
23 May 02 | Europe
30 May 02 | Europe
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