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Monday, 2 December, 2002, 15:33 GMT
Sangatte closure deal agreed
Sangatte
The Red Cross refugee camp was opened in 1999
The French and UK governments have reached a deal to close the controversial Sangatte refugee camp by the end of the year - four months earlier than planned.

The French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy agreed the move in talks in London with Home Secretary David Blunkett, and Prime Minister Tony Blair.

It effectively pushes our border controls across the Channel to the French coast

David Blunkett

As part of the deal - intended to remove the "magnet" of Sangatte - the UK will take 1,000 Iraqi Kurds from the centre on work permits plus "a proportion" of Afghans with family in the UK.

Mr Blunkett said that the two sides had also agreed joint immigration measures at French ports, including the use of new technology.

He told BBC Radio 4's The World at One, the deal had worked out well for the UK.

The moving of immigration and security controls in particular was "a massive step forward," he said.

Refugees
Refugees in Sangatte head for the tunnel
And although the Iraqi Kurds would be given "timed" visas, if they settled and found work they would be allowed to extend their stay, Mr Blunkett said.

"If they have been granted legal economic visas and they are making a contribution, they will be welcome."

Backlog

Speaking earlier, Mr Blunkett said the new security regime "effectively pushes our border controls across the Channel to the French coast".

The Sangatte camp had been a "festering sore" in Anglo-French relations and its closure was a "major achievement", he added.

But Conservative shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said: "Sangatte is a symptom not a cause of the growing asylum disaster, and its closure, though welcome, will have little affect on the overall problem.

"According to the government's own figures, it will take 46 years to clear the current backlog of applications, with or without Sangatte.

"What we need are one-stop shop accommodation centres which can deal with applications quickly and efficiently."

He said the UK needed a new treaty with France "to ensure that anyone who crosses the Channel is sent back within 24 hours".

This would deter people from "using northern France as a staging post for entry to the UK in the first place," he added."

'Humanitarian'

The land at Sangatte is to be returned to its owner after 30 December, and the camp dismantled, Mr Sarkozy said.


What we lack is a serious immigration policy and serious steps to get a grip of it

Sir Andrew Green, Migration Watch UK
He added that he welcomed the fact that the UK had taken measures to tackle the issue of asylum seekers.

Mr Sarkozy said the camp would be dismantled in a "humanitarian way" - "This is not just goods we are dealing with... we are dealing with human beings."

The solution might not be perfect, he said, but many had thought that no solution could ever be reached.

"There is no point hurling insults at each other across the Channel," said Mr Sarkozy, saying that the two countries had built trust.

Policy needed

But Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said closing Sangatte would make little difference to the overall tide of migration into Britain.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "What we lack is a serious immigration policy and serious steps to get a grip of it."

The UK government put pressure on the French to close Sangatte because it claimed it had become a springboard into Britain, and encouraged people-smuggling gangs.

Many refugees tried to stowaway on trucks or trains bound for Britain through the Channel Tunnel.

Tougher stance

Sangatte has been closed to new arrivals for nearly a month but an estimated 1,600, mostly Iraqi Kurds and Afghans, remain at the camp.

A further 3,000 or so are thought to be registered to the camp even though they are not physically staying there.

Representatives from the French Red Cross and the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR also took part in Monday's talks.

Sangatte was set up in 1999 to cope with the growing numbers of asylum seekers congregating at the coast in order to come to Britain.

Last week, new figures showed the number of asylum seekers in the UK rose by 11% to more than 22,000 between July and September.

The government also announced a tightening-up of its immigration policy, by scrapping the right to exceptional leave to remain in the country after an application is rejected.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Margaret Gilmore reports from Brighton
"Critics say it's just another muddled initiative"
Home Secretary David Blunkett
"This is a substantial step forward"
Shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin
"Wasn't the camp a symptom rather than a cause?"

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29 Nov 02 | Politics
30 Nov 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
13 Nov 02 | Europe
12 Nov 02 | Europe
23 Oct 02 | Europe
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