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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 April 2007, 18:16 GMT 19:16 UK
Talks on new Calais asylum centre
Refugees at the Sangatte camp
French officials have denied the centre will be another Sangatte
French officials and charity workers have met to discuss plans to open a new centre for asylum seekers in Calais.

The town's mayor has proposed the reception centre to cope with growing numbers of migrants sleeping rough.

Five years ago the Sangatte refugee camp closed following concerns it was a base for illegal immigrants to enter the UK through the Channel Tunnel.

The centre has been dubbed "Sangatte 2" but the mayor says it will be different because it lacks sleeping facilities.

Sensitive issue

The new centre would offer food, showers and information and advice for about 500 foreign nationals who sleep rough in Calais.

Local charities believe it would be better to have a permanent centre where they could care for the migrants.

The charities want to turn a dog training ground into a welcome centre but unlike Sangatte people would not be able to sleep there.

BBC News special correspondent Gavin Hewitt says the mayor has not yet decided whether to support a new welfare centre but that if he does it will be a very sensitive issue between the French and UK governments.

Sangatte was open for about three years and almost all the 67,000 migrants who passed through it headed for the UK.

'Bad move'

In February, South East MEP Richard Ashworth and Ashford MP Damian Green both voiced their concern about plans for the centre.

There have always been humanitarian services for migrants in the Calais area
Home Office spokesman

Mr Ashworth wrote to the French government and asked France's interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy to intervene.

The MEP said the centre would become a starting point for organised efforts to enter the UK unlawfully, and that he could see it "rapidly turning into Sangatte 2".

Mr Green also compared the centre to Sangatte, and said if it opened it would be a "very bad move".

'Reduced pressure'

The Red Cross-run Sangatte refugee camp, which housed up to 2,000 people on the outskirts of Calais, closed in December 2002 after a deal was struck between the British and French governments.

The Home Office said it understood from the French government that there were no plans to establish a new Sangatte-style centre in the Calais area.

"There have always been humanitarian services for migrants in the Calais area," said a Home Office spokesman.

The spokesman said the closure of Sangatte and the establishment of UK border controls on the other side of the Channel had "significantly reduced pressure on our borders".

Official figures show the number of illegal immigrants detected entering Kent from Calais fell 88% from more than 10,000 in 2002 to 1,500 in 2006.


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