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Controversial Sangatte Refugee Camp is Being Dismantled - 2002-12-14

A controversial refugee center in France is being dismantled. A last group of asylum seekers from the camp is being sent to Great Britain. The Sangatte camp has been a source of tension between Britain and France.

Workers are tearing apart the prefabricated buildings and tent platforms that have been used by the Red Cross to house thousands of asylum seekers. About 67,000 people stayed at the camp since it opened in 1999 near the entrance to the channel tunnel connecting France and Britain.

British officials say the problem was that many of the refugees chose not to stay in the camp while their papers were being considered.

Hundreds of asylum seekers, believing they would have a better chance in Britain or wanting to join family already there, tried to ride on freight or passenger trains or hide in trucks heading for England. Some even tried walking through the tunnel.

After months of tense negotiations, France agreed to close the camp. It then moved up the closing date to this month in return for Britain accepting 1,200 refugees, mostly Iraqi Kurds. The British are giving them temporary work permits but not asylum. The last of those refugees traveled through the tunnel by bus on Saturday.

France agreed to find places for between 2,000 and 3,000 refugees. Any asylum seekers who arrive at the dismantled camp will be sent to other facilities.

A number of new arrivals have been holding protest demonstrations, demanding the chance to go to Britain. Last month about 100 refugees took over a church in Calais for several days before being removed by police.

French police and private security will continue to keep a close watch on the Sangatte site. Even with the camp closed, asylum seekers are expected to continue to head for the channel tunnel in hopes of finding a way to reach England.