Church shelter replaces Sangatte camp

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The Independent Online

To the annoyance of the French government, the city of Calais and a church charity opened a semi-official shelter at the weekend for asylum-seekers barred from the Sangatte Red Cross camp.

To the annoyance of the French government, the city of Calais and a church charity opened a semi-official shelter at the weekend for asylum-seekers barred from the Sangatte Red Cross camp.

More than 100 migrants, mostly Kurds claiming to come from Iraq, were being sheltered last night in a disused church in the Calais docklands.

The French Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, who ordered the Sangatte camp to shut its doors to new arrivals on Tuesday, warned that he would not tolerate the creation of a de facto "second or third" camp. Left-wing and church groups, and the mayor of Calais, who have been trying to help the refugees, were guilty of "manipulation," M. Sarkozy said.

It has become clear in the past few days that the progressive closure of the Sangatte camp, agreed by the French and British governments in September, is causing as many problems as it is solving. A group of 50 refugees seeking asylum in Britain invaded two sports centres in the port on Thursday and Friday. They were ejected by the police.

The Communist mayor, Jacky Hénin, estimated that about 500 refugees had arrived in the area since Sangatte stopped taking new entrants. Most of them are wandering around the town, sleeping rough, and occasionally being arrested by police.

The refugees are given a chance to seek asylum in France. Most refuse, knowing that this would bar them from asylum in Britain if they managed to cross the Channel illegally. In theory, they can then be expelled from France but, in practice, French courts have interpreted the law to forbid their expulsion if they come from a troubled country such as Iraq.

French police are, therefore, arresting them and dumping them two or three hours from Calais. They soon make their way back again.

M. Hénin criticised the sports centres invasion but agreed that "something must be done" to show "solidarity" with the refugees sleeping in the open. He accepted a plan by Emmaus, a church charity, to use the small, disused Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul church as a temporary shelter.

The French government has said that it will close the Sangatte camp completely by the end of April. When the camp empties, Britain will take half of the refugees declared to be genuine by the UN. France will take the other half. The fate of the rest remains unclear.

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