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Wednesday, 26 December, 2001, 15:37 GMT
New calls to close Sangatte
French policemen keep watch on would-be asylum seekers near the Channel Tunnel entrance
Police used tear gas to dispel 400 would-be intruders
Eurotunnel has renewed demands for the closure of a Calais refugee camp after about 550 would-be asylum seekers tried to storm the Channel Tunnel to enter the UK illegally.

Alain Bertrand, Eurotunnel deputy managing director, said the tunnel operator was "powerless" to deal with the frequent attempts to cross the tunnel by refugees based at Sangatte.

"We demand the authorities take their responsibilities to take control of the situation, to put in place a curfew and decommission Sangatte," he said.

Recent tunnel breaches
25 Dec: 150 caught inside tunnel; 400 trying to get in
6 Nov: 74 found hiding on trains in Dover
30 Oct: 154 arrested in Calais freight terminal
2 Sep: 100 caught in Coquelles compound
31 Aug: 80 caught in Coquelles compound
30 Aug: 44 held after walking miles into tunnel

"The French and British governments have taken a passive approach to this problem, saying a lot but doing nothing, and letting the situation deteriorate."

He said the frustration of people in Sangatte, which is two kilometres from the entrance to his company's site, was "rising and rising".

Mr Bertrand added that the incident appeared to be an attempt to attract attention to the migrants' plight, rather than a serious attempt to get to the UK.

"This is a well-constructed media operation. They knew very well that they would never make it to England," he said.

Fractured thigh

French riot police used tear gas to force back a crowd of about 400 trying to storm Eurotunnel's Calais compound at about 0100 GMT on Boxing Day.

Three hours earlier, a group of 150 had broken through fencing and rushed past the 20 or 30 security staff, into the tunnel.

A narrow shuttle bringing back refugees from the Channel Tunnel
The refugees were taken to Sangatte - possibly where they began
They made it on foot about a quarter of a way through the tunnel. One refugee was reported to be injured with a fractured thigh.

Trains were stopped for 10 hours overnight as French police, aided by about 60 British officers, rounded up the intruders, with hundreds of delayed travellers having to be put up in hotels.

About 129 refugees were arrested - 50 of whom remained in custody on Boxing Day afternoon, French police said. None made it to the UK.

The others were taken to Sangatte, which currently houses about 1,600 refugees and where Eurotunnel believes those who tried to break in had been based.

Sangatte row

The overcrowded camp was originally set up as a temporary shelter for a few hundred refugees camping out in the streets and public parks of Calais.

It has since become a source of tension between the French and UK governments, with Eurotunnel saying it is a "logistics" base for almost nightly attempts to get to Britain illegally.

Eurotunnel says it has spent more than 2m this year on improving security at the French entrance to the tunnel.

As a result, many of those try to get across the Channel from the freight yards of the nearby Calais-Frethun railway station, run by the French state railway company SNCF.

In early November, 74 managed to get to Dover on three freight trains that went through the tunnel - they were believed to have cut through the canvas covers on wagons in the Frethun terminal to hide inside the trucks.

The BBC's Emil Petrie
"They are clearly desperate to reach the UK"
See also:

22 Nov 01 | England
Call for troops to stop stowaways
15 Nov 01 | UK Politics
UK could join refugee quota scheme
29 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Asylum seekers to get ID cards
13 Sep 01 | Europe
France denies second refugee camp
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