BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: UK Politics
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

The BBC's Duncan Hewitt
"There is an unresolved issue here"
 real 56k

Neil Thornes from the Red Cross
"We would have said the same to any political party"
 real 28k

Thursday, 12 April, 2001, 13:36 GMT 14:36 UK
French block Widdecombe's visit
A lorry driver and Ann Widdecombe
Ann Widdecombe meets a lorry driver on the ferry to France
Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe has been refused entry to a holding centre for asylum seekers in France.

The Kent MP had planned to tour the Red Cross centre near Calais where many immigrants stay before trying to cross the Channel illegally.

Asylum seekers in the UK
More than 70,000 asylum seekers came to the UK last year
Miss Widdecombe said she was told that the International Red Cross decided to cancel her visit due to the impending general election in the UK.

The Conservatives intend to highlight the issue of asylum seekers during the election campaign.

Miss Widdecombe was taken to the centre at Sangatte, which is funded by the French government but was not allowed through the gates to inspect the facilities.

She said: "I find this an extraordinary decision, as British politicians have been allowed into the centre in the past, most recently Michael Howard a few weeks ago."


Miss Widdecombe added that she doubted the general election was the real reason for the refusal.

"Either the French authorities are embarrassed about Sangatte and the way it is being used by people trying to get into this country, or the British authorities are embarrassed," she said.

A spokeswoman for the International Red Cross in Paris refused to say why Miss Widdecombe had been turned away.

The shadow home secretary said the way the refugee camp is run had to be looked at.

"I ask on what basis these people are in the centre. If they are claiming asylum in France that is fine, but if they are just being held there and trying on an almost daily basis to get into Britain that is not right," she added.

On the P&O ferry to France, Miss Widdecombe spoke to lorry drivers who face fines if stowaways are found on board their trucks.

I find this an extraordinary decision, as British politicians have been allowed into the centre in the past

Ann Widdecombe
Trucker John Coombe, from Portland, Dorset, said: "The lorry drivers are the innocent parties as the last thing they want is immigrants on board. I think the fines are extremely unfair."

Miss Widdecombe agreed, saying: "It has been put to me that the fines do not deter the big gangs organising smuggling people through, but penalise honest drivers."

She then visited the ferry company's facilities in Calais, where 40 security staff check one million lorries a year for stowaways.

P&O spokesman Chris Laming said the action had cut the number of people attempting to cross the Channel illegally.

He said this was proved by the fact that the number of people staying at Sangatte had dropped from 1,300 when the checks began to 300 now.

Miss Widdecombe was later shown the Eurotunnel terminal at Coquelles, near Calais, which has a 23-mile perimeter fence topped with razor wire. She heard of the risks migrants take to reach the UK -- on the day of her visit a young man was electrocuted as he tried to jump on to the roof of a train.

Record numbers

Numbers of asylum applications reached record levels of more than 76,000 last year - the cost was put at 835 million or 34 for every household in the country.

The government insists that increased security at the Eurotunnel terminal and fines for lorry drivers caught with stowaways in their vehicles, are reducing the number of illegal entrants to Britain.

Earlier this month, Home Secretary Jack Straw said the border fines system introduced a year ago had led to "significant improvements in cross-Channel security".

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

22 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Tory asylum attack backfires
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK Politics stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK Politics stories