Children are found hidden under Eurostar

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The Independent Online

Sixteen Romanian asylum-seekers, including a three-year-old child, were found hidden in compartments underneath a Eurostar train when it arrived in London yesterday.

Police in Waterloo station were alerted after passengers leaving the Paris service heard knocking sounds as the asylum-seekers kicked against the walls of the compartments. Officers found five women, two men and nine children, aged between three and 15.

Last March, nine Romanians, including two pregnant women, were found under a train floor. A Eurostar spokes- woman said: "After previous incidents we stepped up security matters surrounding the train, and the number of apprehensions has increased since those measures were taken. This incident is now under investigation."

By hiding in the under-carriage compartments, asylum-seekers are placing themselves only 10ins from the 750-volt rail over which the train passes at speeds of up to 180mph. The Romanians found yesterday under three passenger carriages were dehydrated but after examination by an ambulance crew none required hospital treatment. The group was taken to a holding centre to be questioned by immigration officers.

Police believe they boarded the train in a Paris depot before it started, although brief stops were made at Lille, in France, and at Ashford in Kent. The compartments they were hiding in, which open with a manual click-lock similar to the overhead lockers on airlines, are around 3ft deep and house electrical and other equipment.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva says the numbers of asylum-seekers on the move in the first six months of this year is growing. The 196,400 asylum applications in Europe represented a 4 per cent increase on the similar period last year.

The UNHCR said 40,000 applications had been made in Britain and Germany and 22,500 in France. Afghans made up the largest single nationality, with more than 24,000 seeking asylum in Europe.