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Sunday, 2 April, 2000, 10:53 GMT 11:53 UK
Following the route to refuge
As the UK Government prepares for a radical shake-up in the way it deals with asylum-seekers, thousands of people continue to seek refuge in the UK.

BBC Radio 5 Live's Chris Ledgard follows the route that many such newcomers take across Europe.

He describes what he saw when he picked up the migrant trail from Italy through to the French port of Calais.

1 April, Rome

We get full value for money in the airport taxi - the whole Italian cabbie meets English tourist performance.

We don't want the Via Lom-BAR-dia, it's the Via Lom-bar-DIA. And not even that, it's the Via Lom-barrrrrr-DIA. We roll our 'r's. He laughs, then swerves to avoid someone driving on the right side of the road.
The first leg of the journey
For refugees we head to the Piazza Venezia. A cosmopolitan crowd mills around the tomb of the unknown soldier and queues for the modern art gallery.

In one corner, a less colourful and predominantly Kurdish queue forms for the soup kitchen. Volunteers control the flow inside and down the stairs towards pots of steaming soup and pasta. In his office, the round-faced and slightly stern Jesuit priest, Padre Francesco, gives out orders.

This is refugee care Italian-style. There's plenty to offer tourists, the ancestors took care of that, but not much for asylum seekers, so charity fills the gap.
demonstration against the new immigration law
The new legislation sparked major protests in the UK
Italy has been mainly a transit country, a staging post after the arduous journey from the East, overland through Turkey, Albania, and Greece, and then across the Adriatic, dodging the customs patrol boats. From here most asylum seekers head for Northern Europe, particularly the UK and Germany.

But we're getting tougher on asylum seekers in the North, and it's a trend Padre Francesco views with dismay, because he can see no slowing of the flow of refugees.

Some will give the journey up to stay in Italy he says, many more will take desperate measures to go north, dodge the authorities and find work on the black economy.

Meanwhile, we hear there's a bottleneck at Bolzano on the Italian/Austrian border because people are being sent back into Italy, so we follow the trail up there.

2 April, Bolzano, North Italy

Trains arriving at Bolzano station bring skiers and snowboarders eager to catch what's probably the last decent weekend of snow this season. And they've got a good day for it.

Emerging mid-morning from the pillared station exit they get a Tyrolean town square scene straight out of the films - sunny mountain backdrop, oom-pa-pa band - the whole deal.
Bolzano is a popular entry-point to Northern Europe
In fact, they are being caught on film. Video cameras have been installed at Bolzano station, our friends from the refugee charity tell us, to follow the movements of asylum seekers.

The conspiracy theory goes like this. Catch them on camera here, give the German and Austrian police access to the film, and then anyone caught inside those countries whose face fits the video footage can be sent straight back to Italy under the safe third country rule (asylum seekers can be returned to the first safe country they set foot in).

Failed crossing

Evidence for the theory is apparent in the growing numbers coming back to Bolzano having failed to make the crossing.

Walking to the hotel we pass a group of Kurdish children playing in the street. To the radio reporter children playing means one thing - sound effects. But this lot shut up as soon as they see the microphone.

Not wishing to spoil the game, we start to walk away. Suddenly, snotty nostrils flared, a tiny girl charges the microphone, making just the noises required.

Talking to the family, it emerges they're waiting for the opportunity to cross the border by train or lorry. They'll have to hide, and I don't envy them keeping our friend quiet.

Chris Ledgard speaks to Radio Five Live en-route
"People are worried about the trend towards toughening-up on asylum-seekers"
See also:

15 Jun 99 | UK Politics
Immigration Bill condemned
22 Mar 00 | Scotland
Leaflets 'target refugees'
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