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Thursday, 6 September, 2001, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
French refugee centre plans attacked
The new camp would be near Dunkirk
The Home Office has dismissed a plan for a controversial second refugee centre near Calais as unlikely to solve the current problems.

The French Government wants a new centre at Dunkirk to ease overcrowding at nearby Sangatte.

The proximity of the Sangatte camp to the Channel Tunnel entrance has been blamed for a number of attempts by illegal immigrants to walk through the tunnel.

The possibility of a second camp ... doesn't sound like a particularly helpful suggestion at this time

Home Office
Most are quickly caught by police and returned to the camp but Eurotunnel could soon face fines of up to 2,000 for every illegal immigrant that they carry to the UK.

Eurotunnel has started legal action to close the camp and reclaim land requisitioned to create the site.

"We are aware that the Red Cross has had preliminary discussions with a view to establishing a further site in northern France," said a Home Office spokesman.

"The home secretary has already indicated that he realises that the location of the existing camp is unhelpful.

Dunkirk site

"The possibility of a second camp ... doesn't sound like a particularly helpful suggestion at this time."

The new Dunkirk facility would be likely to be run by the Red Cross.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted the situation in Sangatte was a matter for the Red Cross and the French authorities.

"We can no more tell them what to do than they tell us what to do," he said.

On Sunday, 100 asylum seekers were intercepted trying to enter the UK illegally through the Channel Tunnel.

Separate incident

It was the third attempt in less than a week.

In a separate incident another 40 illegal immigrants were found in the back of a lorry at the port of Dover, in Kent, on Sunday.

German lorry driver Andreas Mentzel, 29, was remanded in custody on Monday after pleading guilty to smuggling the illegal immigrants into the country.

Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe
The UK needs to rethink its asylum system, says Ann Widdecombe
Eurotunnel spokesman Kevin Charles said the plans for a second camp were "disastrous".

"We are still proceeding with our legal action to get the Sangatte centre closed and therefore think it would be very unhelpful to have a second centre at Dunkirk, which would become another Channel port to have problems," he said.

The Red Cross camp at Sangatte holds up to 700 refugees, mostly Afghans and Kurds from Iraq, and is half a mile from the Channel Tunnel entrance.

'Stupid' option

Marc Gentilini, of the French Red Cross, said the statements from Eurotunnel may have caused more illegal immigrants to set off for Britain.

He said it would be "stupid" to close the centre as more people were arriving in the area.

The Deputy Mayor of Calais, Jean Marc Ben, said closing the refugee camp would have no effect on stopping illegal immigration into Britain.

He said: "Calais has become a natural and inevitable crossing point. The problem is a political problem. France and Britain are passing the buck."

'Buck passed'

Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe said the camp was "effectively facilitating the illegal entry of people into Britain".

But she added: "It is no good passing the buck to France. We have to ask ourselves why they won't apply for asylum in France but want to come to Britain.

"In most countries, if you apply and are refused you have to leave. In Britain, statistically speaking, if you are refused, the chances of you being found and returned are very remote.

"We don't, as France does, have a system of identity cards and employer checks."

The BBC's Jon Sopel in Sangatte
"The Sangatte camp is over-crowded"
Marc Jenpilini, President of the French Red Cross
"[Closing the camp] is as stupid as if I said to close the tunnel"
See also:

03 Sep 01 | Scotland
Asylum 'prison' campaign hots up
26 Mar 01 | UK
Stowaway fines 'unfair'
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