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Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 13:01 GMT
Desperate cargo
Ever more stowaways are trying to get into the UK by any means necessary. Prepared to risk life and limb to gain entry, some pay the highest price of all.

Despite the risks - and the tightening asylum rules across the European Union - stowaways continue to cram into planes, trains and automobiles crossing the Channel.

Safe haven
76,040 people applied for ayslum in the UK last year, up from 30,000 in 1996

The former home secretary, Michael Howard, whose Folkestone constituency includes the Eurotunnel terminal and a ferry port, claims there has been a huge rise in the number of people attempting to get in to the UK illegally through the Channel Tunnel.

Dover death lorry
Customs officers found the bodies under crates of tomatoes
Each month, as many as 2,000 illegal migrants are caught hiding in - or under - freight lorries.

The refugees, many from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, wait at the Calais terminal for lorries to park. Some rounded up by police are said to have tried at least 20 times.

It is getting harder to hole up undetected. Customs and Excise officials use increasingly sophisticated equipment to detect stowaways; and P&O Stena has introduced around-the-clock checks on every lorry, van and car boarding its Dover-bound ferries.

But the crackdown has merely forced those desperate to cross to look for another weak spot.

'Stowaways froze on flight to Gatwick'

Periodically, would-be migrants tuck themselves into the undercarriage of a UK-bound jet.

Those who escape being crushed when the wheels retract almost certainly die of hypothermia as temperatures plunge to -40C as the plane cruises at 30,000ft.

National Front rally against asylum seekers
But what reception await those who make it?
Last Christmas, two Cuban asylum-seekers froze to death on a flight from Havana to Gatwick. The first man fell to earth during landing, the second remained lodged in the undercarriage until the plane took off the following day.

But in 1996, an Indian refugee, Pardeep Saini, survived after stowing away on a flight from Delhi to Heathrow. His brother, however, died en route and fell 2,000 feet to earth when the pilot lowered the landing gear.

Mr Saini, who claimed he had been persecuted by Indian police who accused him of links with Sikh terrorists, has since been granted compassionate leave to stay in the UK.

'Nine asylum seekers under a Eurostar'

Eurotunnel authorities have estimated that 150 asylum seekers a day try to sneak aboard trains from the French side.

Some manage to exploit a loophole which allows them aboard Waterloo-bound trains without having to prove they have the right to travel to Britain.

Calais police and refugees
Rounding up stowaways in Calais
Under present rules - set to be changed in June - a passenger with a ticket for Calais does not have to go through rigorous passport controls in Paris. Would-be migrants then stay on the train and claim asylum on arrival in the UK.

But others try to arrive undetected, risking their lives to hide out on freight trains or the Eurostar, which reaches speeds of up to 186mph on electrified lines.

Earlier this month, staff at Waterloo found nine Romanians - including two pregnant women and a child - crammed into a three-foot-deep compartment under a Eurostar train.

And last September, a Bangladeshi immigrant ended up in intensive care after leaping from a freight train at Folkestone's Channel Tunnel terminal.

He was one of 13 stowaways who jumped that night in a vain attempt to escape carriage searches by guards at the secure compound.

A Home Office spokesman said more than 900 people had been caught in the yard - the first point of call for freight trains arriving in the UK - the previous year.

"This is organised trafficking. They would have hidden in the train's crates, they would not have hung from the sides of the trains like they do in the movies."


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See also:

07 Feb 01 | UK
Asylum seeker figures
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