Accessibility links

Britain, France Want to Stop Illegal Immigrants from Tunnel - 2002-05-23

The British and French governments are discussing how to stop illegal immigration to Britain from a controversial refugee camp on the French side of the Channel Tunnel.

The Red Cross refugee camp at Sangatte has been a source of tension between Britain and France since it opened in 1999. Critics say the camp has been a magnet for would-be immigrants who try to sneak into Britain aboard freight trains passing through the nearby Channel Tunnel.

Train operators have said weak French security around the camp and rail track has aggravated the situation. But there are signs of new momentum to solve the dispute following the recent re-election of President Jacque Chirac in France.

The new French Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, traveled to Sangatte to look into what he called "this very serious problem."

Some media reports has said France is proposing that Britain accept up to 1,300 migrants from the camp in exchange for France closing down the facility.

Officials from both countries deny that such a deal already has been struck. More talks on Sangatte are planned for June and July.

In a radio interview Thursday, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said London is pleased that France wants to find a solution to the problem. "What we welcome [are] the indications from the new French government of a constructive willingness to engage on what is unquestionably not just a British problem but a problem right across Europe," Mr. Straw said.

In a related development, Britain's Guardian newspaper has published details of an internal government memo that urges British Prime Minister Tony Blair to use warships in the Mediterranean to curb the smuggling of undocumented immigrants.

The report said the British air force also could be used to fly rejected asylum seekers back to their homelands.

Mr. Blair said one of the most pressing issues in Europe is how to make the continent's borders more secure against the illegal trafficking of people.