French plan to house more refugees in second centre

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French authorities are planning to open a second centre to hold refugees heading for Britain, because of overcrowding at the troubled Sangatte camp near Calais.

The plan was announced as a German lorry driver was being questioned by police last night after 40 refugees, including an eight-year-old boy and two teenagers, were discovered packed "like sardines" in the back of his van in Dover.

The French have announced the "early stages" of a plan to accommodate asylum-seekers at Bailleul, 30 miles from the coast near the Belgian border.

The new centre, on a 20- acre site in the grounds of a psychiatric hospital, would be run by the International Red Cross and house 2,000 asylum seekers. The facility at Sangatte, designed for 600, holds 1,200.

One of the 40 refugees discovered last night was taken to hospital suffering from heat exhaustion after the group was trapped for several hours during the ferry crossing from Calais on Saturday. The 39 Sri Lankans and one Indian were discovered in a spot-check by immigration officers. A police spokesman said: "They were squeezed into the lorry like sardines. It is hard to see how 40 people could fit into such a small space."

The 29-year-old driver has been arrested on suspicion of smuggling people and is being held in custody at Dover.

Hours earlier, a group of 100 Kurdish and Afghan men were stopped by French police at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel.

The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has told the French Interior Minister, Daniel Vaillant, the location of the Red Cross camp at Sangatte, which houses 700 refugees, "was not helping" Britain in its efforts to prevent asylum-seekers from entering the country, particularly through the Channel Tunnel.

Shadow Home Secretary Anne Widdecombe accused the French authorities yesterday of trying to "pass the buck" by not acting to stop the regular breaches of security. She said: "People are not being held at Sangatte while their claims are processed. They are being held there while they make repeated attempts to enter Britain."

Gwyn Prosser, the Labour MP for Dover, said the French authorities were doing too little to deter refugees from attempting the trip to Britain and urged the British Government to look for new ways of controlling the problem.