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Illegal Immigrants Refuse to Leave Calais Church - 2002-11-12

About 70 illegal immigrants continue to occupy a church in the northern French port city of Calais. Riot police have surrounded the church and have cut off electricity to it. The immigrants, mainly Iraqi Kurds and Afghanis, have so far refused to leave.

The asylum seekers took over the church on Saturday after they were denied admission to a nearby refugee camp. Since then, they have ignored several deadlines for them to leave the church. Another has been set for midday Wednesday.

The mayor of Calais, Jackie Henin, said conditions won't allow the immigrants to stay; several are already ill because of the lack of proper sanitary facilities.

France's interior minister, Nicholas Sarkozy, said the immigrants will not be forcibly thrown out unless church officials request it, and that seems unlikely. The pastor of the Saint Pierre Saint Paul church, Jean-Pierre Boutouille, said he is trying to persuade the immigrants to go to other refugee camps and apply for asylum in France.

The immigrants actually want asylum in Britain, but to do that they must first get there. Until recently, that was relatively easy for residents of the camp, known as Sangatte, which is located near the French end of the channel tunnel. Many were able to board freight trains bound for Britain right before the trains entered the tunnel.

Now the French government, under pressure from the British, is phasing out the camp. But illegal immigrants continue to come to the north of France, hoping to make it to Britain.