Kent police reject plea to patrol in France

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The Independent Online

Police said yesterday that they will resist a request by French authorities for British officers to patrol near Calais to help keep asylum-seekers out of the Channel Tunnel.

Kent Constabulary warned there was "no way" the force would "stretch its boundaries across the Channel" without extra money. The Association of Chief Police Officers said border security in France was a matter for French police.

The French authorities' request was brought into sharp focus by an incident yesterday in which a French security guard was placed under formal investigation after he admitted that he shot and wounded an 18-year-old asylum seeker from Afghanistan. The 25-year-old guard told prosecutors that he fired as a group of refugees tried to break into freight trains.

The offer to let British police work on French soil will be put to the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, by his opposite number in France, Daniel Vaillant, when they meet in Paris on Wednesday.

The summit has been called to discuss ways of tackling the rising number of migrants from the Sangatte camp outside Calais trying to get to Britain through the tunnel.

French proposals for a second camp near Dunkirk have caused tensions because the Home Office fears it will attract even more immigrants. Mr Blunkett is expected to ask that Sangatte be closed if a new camp opens.

Mr Valliant's offer to allow British police to inspect lorries entering the tunnel, which is now done by Eurotunnel's private security force and French border police, was seen as an attempt to defuse tensions.

A spokesman for Mr Blunkett said deploying British officers in France would be a "big decision". "In dealing with problems of illegal immigration and asylum-seekers we do have to move to having more Europe-wide solutions and that involves close co-operation, in some cases closer than we have had before in the European Union. We have to be open minded," he said.

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said: "If it deals with the problem we would like to help but what it should not be allowed to become is using British police to solve what is essentially a question of control and organisation in France."

Eurotunnel, which has appointed the former British Army commander General Sir Roger Wheeler to advise on security at the Channel Tunnel terminal in France, said it would welcome any help.

At Wednesday's meeting Mr Blunkett – who said yesterday that he did not want to be rushed on the migrant question – is expected to discuss moves to a common EU policy on the definition of genuine asylum-seekers as well as how to improve co-ordination on combating trafficking of migrants. He is expected to announce plans for reform of the work permit system to allow for economic migrants later in the autumn. New proposals on vouchers and the dispersal of asylum-seekers are likely to be announced at the Labour Party conference later this month.

Bill Morris, leader of the Transport and General Workers' Union, urged ministers to scrap the voucher system, which he said was ineffective and costly.