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Tuesday, 4 September, 2001, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Aiming for England
Asylum seekers discovered hiding in the back of a lorry
Security with Alsatians, refugees crouching in the long grass - Monday night was business as usual for refugees and the authorities in Calais, reports BBC News Online's chief feature writer Jonathan Duffy.

Daybreak is still an hour away in Sangatte, but for four young refugees the coming dawn means it is time to call it a day.

The four men are despatched from a police Transit van at the gates of the infamous Sangatte refugee shelter, a stone's throw from the port town of Calais in north west France, where they begin a resigned walk back to the accommodation block.

England is better to live and work... London very good, Manchester very good - good football

Hamid, a 36-year-old Iranian
Although they shrug off all questions, there is little doubt as to what has been going on.

In the hours after nightfall on Monday, an estimated 150 to 200 refugees streamed out of the Sangatte centre, each one clinging to the hope that by morning they would be in England.

The exodus is now a nightly occurrence. Most, if not all, would have failed and been returned under police escort to the Red Cross-run shelter, where they will be free to try their luck again on Tuesday night.

The authorities in Calais have been locked in a nightly cat and mouse with the refugees at Sangatte since the centre opened in 1999.

Two unidentified refugees cover their faces as they wait in the bushes for night to come
Recently the efforts of migrants has become increasingly desperate as the avenues of escape to England have narrowed.

Since April last year lorry drivers crossing by ferry to Dover have been liable for a 2,000 fine if they are found to be carrying unauthorised passengers.

Now the UK Government wants to put the same onus of responsibility on Eurotunnel.

The plans came after revelations that migrants have been stowing away on board the high-speed freight trains that run under the English Channel. Some have even tried walking through the tunnel itself.

Stowaways are searched after being found
It is impossible to know exactly how many get across, although one recent report estimated an illegal migrant entered Britain on average every half an hour.

Yet the challenge of breaking Eurotunnel's security looks awesome. The company has invested 3 million in security on the French side. A 20-mile perimeter fence, topped with ribbons of razor wire, surrounds the freight terminal and track that leads to the tunnel entrance.

Guards with Alsatian dogs patrol the area and every bit of track is intensely floodlit.

But these are not deterrent enough. As evening settles on the outskirts of Calais, lines of refugees can be seen walking along the roads that fan out from Sangatte.

Sometimes they are alone, sometimes in small huddles or bigger groups of 20 or 30. Some hide their faces under plastic bags, others have hoicked their anoraks over their heads - making them look like cheeky schoolchildren.

A gendarme on the lookout
Hamid, a 36 year-old Iranian man in a group of three, says he's on his way to England. But why England? What's wrong with staying in France?

"The language I can speak," he says in very broken English. "England is better to live and work... London very good, Manchester very good. Good football."

His friend Davood, 34, says Iran is dangerous and he has been imprisoned for speaking out against the government.

They say they paid a fixer US$2,000 each to be smuggled to France, via Turkey, Bosnia and Italy.

They won't reveal how they plan to get across to England, but considering it would certainly involve some illegal and maybe highly dangerous manoeuvring, they seem remarkably calm and good natured.

Only a couple of hundred yards away, a few Eurotunnel guards are milling around next to the railway track. They also look relaxed, almost to the point of boredom.

Eurotunnel employees set-up barbed-wire around the entrance to the Channel tunnel
Dozens of closed circuit TV cameras keep watch for suspicious movements. There is no shortage of that at least.

Here and there refugees can be seen crouching in the long grass that borders the roads and railway, although it seems they are trying mostly to cover their tracks from the assembled journalists.

By 11pm, there are still plenty of refugees openly walking around. A group of five - two from Afghanistan, three from Iraq - are cutting across a grass bank, but stop to talk anyway.

They are younger than the Iranians - in their late teens and early 20s. Jamil, 20, says he has been at Sangatte for 37 days, and every night he has tried jumping the trains bound for Dover.

"England is a very good country. It is somewhere to work. Better than France and better than Afghanistan."

When asked how and where he plans to break through Eurotunnel's perimeter fence, he gives a cunning smile and waves goodbye.

But not all refugees seem to be fixated on the Eurotunnel route. On the way back to Sangatte at midnight, a group of 30 can be seen walking in the direction of central Calais - a route that eventually leads to the docks.

That too is a high risk option, but when it comes to slipping the net, Sangatte refugees have shown themselves to be extremely shrewd. Now that so much attention is focused on the tunnel, perhaps they are looking for a new way to penetrate Fortress Britain.

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