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Friday, 31 May, 2002, 07:58 GMT 08:58 UK
Tunnel security to be tightened
Channel Tunnel entrance
Thousands of asylum seekers have slipped through
The French Government has agreed to step up security to combat asylum seekers trying to enter Britain illegally though the Channel Tunnel.

It has pledged to increase security patrols, install new CCTV cameras and complete fencing around the French entrance to the tunnel.

France was told on Thursday by the European Commission that its failure to provide adequate security was in breach of European rules governing the free movement of goods.

The immediate action that's needed is round-the-clock policing


The French Government said work on the extra security at the Frethun freight terminal would begin immediately and be completed by November.

But freight companies whose services have been severely disrupted by asylum seekers attempting to jump on their trains, said that was not soon enough.

Britain's main rail freight operator EWS, which claims to have lost 30m over the past six months because of disruptions, said security should be fixed immediately.

Planning director Graham Smith told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It seems quite remarkable that we've got to wait until November.

"A three-mile fence takes some considerable time to build, but we're only seeing policing 12 hours a day, and the asylum-seekers know that and they just stroll into the yard in the other 12 hours.

"The immediate action that's needed is round-the-clock policing."

Restricted hours

Kent Labour MEP Mark Watts, who has been pressing the Commission to pursue legal action, said he wanted visible signs of change within days.

We will be watching [France] like a hawk

Kent MEP Mark Watts

He told Today: "We will be watching them like a hawk, and if they don't do something today, tomorrow and over the weekend we will be back for talks next week."

The talks between the French Government and the European Commission were held after EWS made an official complaint.

For the last six months, the French authorities have restricted the hours freight trains can run through the tunnel to the night, when they can guarantee the presence of police to deter asylum seekers.

EWS says it has only been running 25% of a normal service - with catastrophic effects on its business.


Spokesman Graham Meiklejohn said 1,500 asylum seekers had still made it into Britain on the trains in the last six months, so the policy had failed anyway.

The news comes a day after France welcomed new plans by Britain to deport thousands of failed asylum seekers before they can appeal.

The UK plans to send many of its unsuccessful asylum applicants back to the last country they came from - often France.

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said Mr Blunkett's proposals, which were attacked by refugee groups, were "true to the spirit of good collaboration".

The BBC's Samantha Simmonds
"The European Commission upheld a complaint against France"
EWS rail freight operator's Graham Meiklejohn
"This level of security could be implemented in a matter of weeks"
The BBC's James Coomerasamy
"It could take upto November before all the improvements are in place"

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30 May 02 | Politics
30 May 02 | Politics
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