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CHOCO
Dec 2nd, 2002, 09:52 PM
Britain and France Agree to Move Up Closure of Asylum Camp
By ELAINE SCIOLINO


PARIS, Dec. 2 France and Britain announced today that the much-criticized asylum camp on France's northern coast will close this month instead of next April, as was planned.

The vast fenced-in two-acre site, which is run by the French Red Cross and situated just outside the small town of Sangatte, near Calais, has attracted thousands of immigrants trying to travel illegally to Britain through the 32 miles of the Channel Tunnel.

Under the arrangement announced in London today, Britain will receive about 1,000 Iraqi Kurds, who will be given work visas, and about 200 Afghans with family members in Britain. France will take responsibility for the roughly 300 remaining residents of the camp.

"I am very pleased that the Sangatte center will close for good on 30 December," Home Secretary David Blunkett of Britain said at a joint news conference with the French interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy.

"The center has been a magnet for illegal immigrants over the past three years," Mr. Blunkett said. "Around 67,000 people have passed through it, and it has been a festering sore in Anglo-French relations."

The camp, and the willingness of asylum seekers to risk death to cross the English Channel into Britain, has been an irritant in French-British relations. France had accused Britain of encouraging illegal immigration with its relaxed asylum laws; Britain charged France with doing little to prevent asylum seekers from trying to cross the Channel.

Today Mr. Blunkett called the deal a "seismic shift" in relations between the two countries.

Mr. Sarkozy, meanwhile, said that the Sangatte problem was now resolved. "We'll put an end to what was a magnet for immigration," he said.

On Nov. 5 the French government barred the camp from accepting new arrivals, and all those seeking refuge since then have been turned away.

It is unclear whether the closure will stop asylum seekers from still using the area as a staging ground to get to Britain.

A five-day occupation of a church in nearby Calais last month by about 100 immigrants seeking shelter after the cutoff date underscored how Calais and the surrounding region has become a magnet for migrants seeking asylum in Britain.

But Mr. Sarkozy said today that fewer than 10 people a day now arrive at the camp seeking refuge, compared with a high of 400 a day.

"In acting this way we have put an end to a situation that was characterized by massive inhumanity to those people who were living in the center," he said.

"We will also put an end to a symbol a symbol which was like a magnet for immigrants who thought that by coming there they would find a way into the U.K."

Opened three years ago to house refugee-seekers who had fled from Kosovo and inundated Calais, the site now houses about 1,600 asylum seekers from 40 countries, more than half of them from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Britain's Refugee Council, which campaigns for asylum seekers' rights, welcomed the decision to allow in the Iraqis.

"It is absolutely essential that people fleeing persecution have access to safety," said the council's international development manager, Julia Purcell. "No one can be in any doubt that Iraqis have every reason to flee that country."

France and Britain also agreed today to step up security including better surveillance and an increased police presence at some ports along France's northern coast in an effort to cut down on illegal immigration, the ministers said.

The two countries will also make a concerted effort to clamp down on organized rings of people traffickers. "France will keep up a police contingent to make sure that the reasons that led to the camp are not reproduced," Mr. Sarkozy said.

Mr. Sarkozy said that the camp will be dismantled and handed back to its owners, Eurotunnel, the company that operates the nearby railroad tunnel between Britain and France.

He added that the camp would be broken up in a "humanitarian way," saying: "This is not just goods we are dealing with. We are dealing with human beings."

On Nov. 8 Britain introduced new asylum laws as part of its bid to end what the country sees as its reputation as a safe haven among would-be immigrants.

Britain has set up accommodation centers to welcome new asylum seekers. Its new legislation streamlined and tightened asylum appeals, requires transport companies to conduct checks for stowaways and increased the penalties for illegal workers and people trafficking.

CHOCO
Dec 2nd, 2002, 11:40 PM
I wonder if there is a solution to this sticky problem of housing illegal immigrants.

niratti
Dec 3rd, 2002, 12:06 AM
Britain should change some law!!!

stop giving them money, they will stop coming here.