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Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 21:09 GMT 22:09 UK
France aims to shut Sangatte
Refugees at Sangatte, described as a magnet for those trying to reach the UK illegally
Sangatte refugees are guarded after a riot at the camp
The French interior minister has said he aims to close the Sangatte refugee camp near Calais - although no date for the closure has been set.

Nicolas Sarkozy said the closure of the camp - described as a staging post for illegal immigrants determined to sneak into the UK - was an "objective" because of concerns raised by both Britain and local residents.

"Everyone understands that closing down Sangatte can be - must be - a goal, but cannot come first.

"If we do it too quickly, it would create more problems for the residents, for the locals, than it would solve."

Security beefed up

He also promised to beef up security in and around the camp, saying that from September, 30 more police officers would be sent to Calais.

He said attention should then turn to long-term solutions for asylum problems.

"The long term solution can only come from a community policy, a European-wide policy, about asylum."


The long term solution can only come from a community policy, a European-wide policy, about asylum

Nicolas Sarkozy
He said he had discussed this last week with UK Home Secretary David Blunkett, who agreed that the lack of EU-wide immigration legislation led refugees to head to Britain, where controls were not thought to be so strict.

Mr Sarkozy said more talks with Mr Blunkett were planned for 17 or 18 June in London, to determine the best joint policies.

There are fears that without a change in immigration policies, the refugees will simply shift to the town - where tension and support for far-right politics is already running high.

One immigrant told the BBC if the centre was shut, he would simply move: "I would go to the train station and sleep there, and then try to go to England, because I have no other chance."

More talks

A spokesman for UK Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed Mr Sarkozy's comments.

The UK Government earlier confirmed that informal talks had taken place with France over the centre, and formal negotiations would be held in June and July.

Blair's 'plans'
Identifying new sites for removal centres
Speeding up the removal of "unfounded applicants"
12 month limit on stays for Afghans and Somalis granted exceptional leave to remain
Extending visa regime to Zimbabwe
Navy ships to intercept people traffickers
RAF planes for bulk deportations
But it denied reports in French newspapers that it was considering a deal to take up to 1,300 refugees currently housed there, in return for its closure.

France has been summoned to the European Commission to explain how it intends to stop asylum seekers jumping on Channel Tunnel freight trains in attempts to reach Britain.

French and British officials will meet the commission next Thursday to discuss solutions to the problem.

It was reported in the UK on Thursday that Mr Blair was planning to take personal charge of asylum policy.

Sangatte
Opened 1999 to house refugees sleeping rough
Meant to house 600
Currently houses about 1,300
Run by Red Cross
An estimated 100 residents reach the UK each week
28,000 have passed through altogether

According to a Downing Street document leaked to the Guardian, Mr Blair is considering moves including using Royal Navy ships to intercept people traffickers in the Mediterranean - and RAF planes to carry out mass deportations.

A spokesman for the prime minister said a series of options were under consideration.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said the suggested deal over the camp was unacceptable.

"If the deal as described is true, this is the politics of the madhouse."

The Refugee Council's Nick Hardwick said that Sangatte was the "symptom not the cause" of people wanting to come to the UK.

"This witch-hunt against clearly desperate people must stop now," he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jon Sopel
"No date has been set for Sangatte's closure"
British Refugee Council chief exec Nick Hardwick
"The French authorities have not properly dealt with their responsibilities"
EU internal markets spokesman Jonathan Todd
"We want to make sure that the French authorities are taking enough security measures"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Sangatte
Is closing the camp the solution?

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23 May 02 | Politics
23 May 02 | Europe
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