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Last Updated: Friday, 13 April 2007, 19:20 GMT 20:20 UK
Q&A: Sangatte camp
Sangatte refugee camp near Calais was closed in a bid to stem the flow of illegal immigrants crossing the Channel into the UK.

A new centre has been proposed, which some have called "Sangatte 2", but authorities in the French town say it will be different.

Refugees at Sangatte camp
Sangatte camp was used as a base for illegal entry into the UK

What was Sangatte camp?

The camp covered roughly the same area as Heathrow airport and contained an ex-Eurotunnel building that was requisitioned by the French authorities in September 1999.

It was located about 1.2 miles from Eurotunnel's terminal near Calais and 3.1 miles from Calais port.

Sangatte was designed to hold about 900 refugees, but the Red Cross said numbers peaked at about 2,000.

A study by French sociologist Smain Laacher, published in June 2002, found that refugees wanted to come to the UK, rather than remain in France, because of a favourable asylum regime.

The research suggested the refugees - nearly 90% Iraqi Kurds and Tadjiks or Pashtuns from Afghanistan - were reasonably well-educated and had saved the equivalent of several years wages to pay for the journey.

The village of Sangatte, with a population of 800, was actually smaller than the camp.

UK concerns that the camp was being used as a base for illegal immigration led to its closure in December 2002 following an agreement between the British and French governments.

Where should refugees claim asylum?

Under the Dublin Convention a refugee is supposed to claim asylum in the first safe country through which they travel, and a European Union member state may return an asylum seeker to that country.

The convention is a treaty between EU member states which came into force in September 1997.

Under the treaty a member state is responsible for handling an asylum application if a member of the asylum seeker's family has been granted refugee status in that country or if a refugee has been granted a visa or residence permit in that state.

A member state is also responsible if the refugee has been able to enter its territory because of poor border controls or has been allowed to enter without a visa.

How did Sangatte close down?

The then Home Secretary David Blunkett and the French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy met in Sangatte on 26 September 2002.

After inspecting new security measures put in place at the Eurotunnel terminal at Frethun and Calais port, they announced proposals to close Sangatte.

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.

The Home Office says this is in part due to the closure of Sangatte and the introduction of UK border controls on the French side of the Channel.

What is the proposal dubbed by some as "Sangatte 2"?

Charities and officials in Calais want to create a welfare centre for some 500 asylum seekers who are sleeping rough in the port town.

It would provide food, showers and information and advice but no sleeping facilities.

The charities say they are already providing such services in the town, although not in one location, and have earmarked a site for the centre.

Some have called the proposal "Sangatte 2", fearing it would reignite illegal immigration to the UK across the Channel.

However, the authorities in Calais say it would not be like the original Sangatte because the proposed centre would not provide accommodation.

A final decision on whether the centre will go ahead is set to be made at the end of April and it could be open by November.

What has been the reaction in the UK?

Shadow immigration minister Damian Green has said such facilities would just encourage people to come to Calais in order to try to enter the UK illegally.

He said: "We all know that the only reason why all those people are there is to try to break the law and try to come to Britain illegally, and dangerously in many cases."

Although Conservative MEP for the South East, Richard Ashworth, said the plan had the right intentions, he feared it would become a hub for unlawful entry into the UK.

He has written to French interior minister - and presidential contender - Nicolas Sarkozy, asking him to intervene.

The Liberal Democrats said Conservative reaction was "cynical and hysterical".

The Home Office says it has been assured by the French government that there are no plans for a Sangatte-style facility near Calais.

"There have always been humanitarian services for migrants in the Calais area," it notes.


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