Asylum-seekers attempt to walk Channel Tunnel

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The Independent Online

A group of 44 asylum-seekers managed to walk several miles along the Channel Tunnel before being turned back by police. Last night extra security staff were being deployed at the French end of the tunnel to prevent a repeat of the incident, which led to a suspension of train services.

The group of asylum-seekers were seen by a security guard entering the tunnel at around 11pm on Wednesday night. They entered the tunnel after crossing a road bridge over the A16 motorway near Calais, climbing down a grass embankment and cutting through wire fencing.

Staff from Eurotunnel, the company which runs the tunnel, made a decision to cut off the rail power supply and to allow the group to enter the tunnel, rather than attempt to tackle them.

Police officers and Eurotunnel officials then travelled six miles along the service tunnel, which lies between the two main freight and passenger tunnels, to get ahead of the group as they made their way towards England in pitch darkness.

The police team worked its way back along the tunnel until the asylum-seekers were eventually found walking about two or three miles into the 32-mile-long tunnel. They were stopped and escorted back to the French entrance.

French police and immigration officials questioned the 44 men, who were of different nationalities, on Thursday. Unconfirmed reports stated that the 44 were part of a larger group of 300 asylum-seekers that had set off that evening from the Red Cross centre at Sangatte, near Calais, where many asylum-seekers are accommodated. The tunnel runs from Sangatte to Shakespeare's Cliff, near Folkestone, in Kent.

Camille Newall, a Eurotunnel spokeswoman, said: "Our detection system, cameras and security guards identified the fact that a group had entered the portal. They were allowed to enter the tunnel because it is better to contain them in the tunnel than have them gathering outside.

"At the end of the day, our procedures worked. No one was hurt and we stopped these people passing through the tunnel," she said.

"What is so frustrating is that we are a private transport company, not a frontier control point. We are spending more and more money on security yet the Government, which will not contribute, is simply threatening us with fines. We are now going to increase the number of guards at the portals from tonight but it does not seem to matter what we do."

Normal Eurotunnel services had resumed on Thursday. However, the breach of security is only the latest in a series of audacious attempts by asylum-seekers to reach Britain.

In recent months, Channel crossings have been attempted on inflatable lilos and rowing boats. Asylum-seekers have also stowed away underneath Eurostar trains and have tried to climb aboard cross-Channel ferries by approaching them in rubber dinghies. In one of the worst incidents, a young man drowned as he jumped overboard from a ferry in an attempt to avoid being returned to France by security staff.

Other asylum-seekers have been killed by overhead cables as they have tried to board trains before they enter the Channel Tunnel.