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150 Asylum Seekers Fail to Reach Britain in Channel Tunnel - 2001-12-26

French and British police have caught about 150 asylum seekers inside the tunnel under the English Channel. They were trying to sneak into Britain from France and may have come from a nearby Red Cross refugee center. French police arrested 129 of the suspects in the tunnel, which was closed for several hours, but has now been re-opened.

In the latest attempt to use the Eurotunnel to get to Britain, the asylum seekers tore down a security fence on the French end of the tunnel, overwhelmed about 20 security guards and rushed inside.

Tunnel authorities saw them on closed circuit cameras and called police in France and England.

The group - believed to be mostly Afghans, Kurds, and Iranians - managed to get about a quarter of the way through the 40-kilometer tunnel before being caught.

The tunnel was closed to freight traffic most of the night because of the search for refugees.

The timing of the attempt may have been linked to the suspension of passenger train service on Christmas Day and December 26.

Tunnel authorities say the refugees came from the nearby Red Cross-run center at Sangatte, which the French government set up to hold asylum-seekers. However, officials at the Sangatte center said this latest incident did not involve refugees from the camp.

Tunnel authorities have asked French courts to close the center, because of repeated attempts by asylum-seekers to get to Britain, which has a reputation for its relatively liberal asylum laws.

Eurotunnel claims the total number of stowaways found this year inside the tunnel or hidden on trains going through it is more than 18,000.