Asylum: 'No matter how many police, I'll try every night'
Sunday 19 May 2002
Walking past the freight marshalling yards at Frethun on Friday night it wasn't hard to spot the hiding places. The 500 acres of floodlit space are covered with storage sheds and train wagons bound for the Channel Tunnel and England, all visible from the wire fence around the edge.
This is the place of choice for would-be asylum seekers beginning their risky, clandestine journeys to the UK hidden aboard freight cars. The French police have stepped up their patrols for the last few nights after angry complaints about lax security from the British Government. The patrols have done nothing to deter the groups of well-dressed men and women from Turkey, Iraq and eastern Europe who are everywhere on the roads between Calais, Frethun and the Sangatte Red Cross centre.
"I know there are supposed to be many guards now especially when it is night," said Aman, a 28-year-old Iraqi man in jeans, trainers and a multicoloured sweater, one of three heading to the rail yard on Friday evening. "I will still try to go, the night is my opportunity. I will go no matter how many police." His friend in a mock leather jacket agreed: "The number of police is not important."
It is easy to see why they are so confident. The double wire fence around the freight yard is 8ft high. But its three-mile perimeter is punctured with rips and holes. Looking over the floodlit tracks from the outside, I could see that the police are heavily outnumbered despite the resumption of night-time patrols.
"We know the police numbers change," said Aman. "But we want a good life. We will work harder to get on the trains."
The first French officers appeared around 7.30 pm as the light started to fade. But the moment they disappeared, well-dressed men scrambled through the outer fence and climbed the inner wire guarding the complex.
All night it was possible to count gaps of 20 or 30 minutes when no one was in sight but the asylum seekers. At one place in the yard during a four-hour period there appeared to be just six French policemen assigned to deal with dozens of refugees. The officers work in shifts beginning with a few men at 5pm and stepping up the security as the night goes on. At the peak time for confrontation – between 11pm and 3am – there were more than 55 police but the asylum seekers were in their hundreds. During the day there were no patrols at all and security seemed non-existent.
Those who got caught were later returned to the Red Cross centre at Sangatte, the scene of riots last week. French police had to fire tear gas to break up fights between the refugees.
"If you have 300 blokes against a few dozen police officers you have to wonder," said Andy Lickfold, a spokesmen for the freight operator, English Welsh & Scottish Railway. By Friday, 14 more asylum seekers had reached Britain despite the renewed police presence.
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