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Thursday, 5 December, 2002, 17:23 GMT
Sangatte refugees arrive in UK
Immigrants leave Sangatte for Britain
The first group of immigrants includes 40 Iraqi Kurds
The first of about 1,200 immigrants from the Sangatte refugee camp have arrived in Britain, under a deal to close the centre at the end of the month.

The group of 40 Iraqi Kurds and two Afghan families smiled and waved as they began their journeys to centres in Sheffield and London.

They have been given four-year work visas allowing them to find employment legally.

The UK Government claims the closure of the camp will lead to tighter border controls and a substantial reduction in the number of people reaching Britain.

Immigration Minister Beverley Hughes told BBC News: "Sangatte has been a magnet and it has allowed criminal gangs to persuade people that this was a route in."

Identities checked

The first group travelled through the Channel Tunnel by train after a Home Office processing centre in Calais checked their identities.

Closing Sangatte
Camp houses 4,800
UK to take 1,000 Iraqis and 200 Afghans
Remaining 3,600 offered money to return home
Camp has housed 67,000 asylum seekers in past three years

They will be offered temporary accommodation for three months and help with language training and job hunting.

Once the work visas run out those who fear being returned to their home countries can apply for asylum.

One of the immigrants, a 19-year-old Afghan who had made several attempts to stowaway on UK-bound trains, said he had been given the chance to "start building a better life".

'Trafficking gangs'

Ms Hughes said the camp's closure combined with extra security measures in France, intelligence work and detection would "bear down" on the route into the UK.

Police at Sangatte
French police guard new arrivals at Sangatte
"Since the talks between us began, the French Government has deployed 1,000 gendarmes in Calais, dealt with hundreds of illegal immigrants there, disrupted six major trafficking gangs and arrested nearly 250 traffickers," she said.

Mrs Hughes said the closure would also help to separate economic migrants from genuine asylum seekers, who could be dealt with more justly as a result.

Defending the decision to award the Sangatte group work permits - something denied to asylum seekers - she said it had been necessary to find a way to deal with those in the camp.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said the new measures were treating a symptom rather than the cause of the "growing asylum disaster".

The Refugee Council welcomed the decision to close Sangatte, but warned the deal could lead to public confusion about the immigrants' status.

Spokeswoman Jessica Yudilevich said: "We... and the government should acknowledge that these people are not here purely for economic reasons."

Stress

Under the deal Britain has agreed to take the bulk of the Iraqi Kurds at the camp and Afghan families who already have relatives in the country.

The United Nations (UN) agencies working with the asylum seekers had hoped to move families first because of the stress on children living at Sangatte.

They will now follow during the next two weeks, according to the UN agencies.

The remaining 3,600 asylum seekers at the camp will be offered up to 2,000 euros (1360) to return home or will be able to apply for political asylum in France.

The Red Cross camp was set up two years ago when refugees came to the north French coast to make nightly bids to slip into Britain.

The UK Government put pressure on the French to close Sangatte because it claimed it had become a springboard into Britain, and encouraged people-smuggling gangs.

It will now be dismantled and handed back to its owners, Eurotunnel.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"This is a short-term solution to a long-term problem"
Sandy Buchan, Chief Executive of Refugee Action
"I think the government is in some sort of moral chaos"
Mohammed Asif, Afghan refugee
"There is no proper planning for asylum seekers to be housed"

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29 Nov 02 | Politics
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