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France, Britain to Close  Sangatte Refugee Camp - 2002-12-02


France and Britain announced a deal Monday that will shut down a controversial French refugee camp by the end of December. In return, Britain will take in more than 1,000 Iraqi Kurds and Afghans.

The Sangatte refugee camp, near the French port of Calais, will be closed on December 30, ending a major irritation in Anglo-French relations.

The deal was announced in London after a meeting between British Home Secretary David Blunkett and French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

Under the agreement, France will move up the closure of Sangatte, which had earlier been scheduled for April. Britain, in turn, will take in about 1,000 Iraqi Kurds and as many as 200 Afghans.

Britain also will deploy immigration officers at French ports to try to stem the tide of illegal immigration, as Mr. Blunkett explained. "Sangatte is only part of the problem. It is a magnet. It is a draw for organized traffickers to dump people on the French coast. But the immigration and security controls that are now moved, and will be moved to French ports, will be absolutely critical in demonstrating that we will get control of this issue in France, rather than in Britain," he said.

Sangatte opened in 1999 to cope with thousands of refugees who congregated near the French entrance of the Channel tunnel in hopes of sneaking into Britain aboard freight trains.

The French say 67,000 asylum seekers have passed through Sangatte in the past three years. At the height of the refugee flow, Sangatte was taking in 400 people a day. Sangatte closed its doors to new arrivals on November 5.

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