Lives risked every night at the tunnel

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The Independent Online

Another Saturday night at Sangatte. Dozens, if not hundreds, of desperate asylum- seekers make their way from a corrugated refugee centre to the Chunnel terminal at Calais in the hope – mostly vain – of making their way to the UK and a better life.

Few make it, contrary to reports of refugees "flooding" into Britain. On Friday morning, Eurotunnel said, 80 illegal immigrants tried to force their way into the Channel Tunnel site in France in a bid to smuggle themselves into the UK.

Only the day before it had stepped up security measures after 44 asylum-seekers managed to walk seven miles along one of the main tunnels.

Iranian businessman Bobby Shahlaei, 40, is at the complex with his wife Neshat, 34, and nine-year-old son Nouzhan.

He fled his country when the government, suspecting he was trading with the Americans, created a file on his activities and froze his assets.

He said: "My friend, who is claiming political asylum in the UK, told me life would be easy in England.

"He said refugees are welcomed there. I have been here for a month and I cannot wait to leave. The people are dirty and nobody cares about anyone else.

"Inside the complex it is hell, it is heaven just getting outside. It is the middle of summer but this building is cold to sleep in – I cannot stay here much longer or it will get even colder."

Behind him grubby skirts, tops and socks deck the fencing on the entrance to the Red Cross centre.

Refugee families carry sobbing children on the daily two-mile walk from the shops in neighbouring Sangatte to the corrugated warehouse, which currently houses more than 1,300. Taxis also drop off the latest bewildered arrivals.

Afghan Hait Ulla, 30, has been at the centre for two weeks after fleeing his war-torn country to avoid having to fight for the country's oppressive governing party, the Taliban.

He said: "I have paid an agent $3,000 (£2,100) to help me make it this far. I feel like a prisoner living here with the French police watching us 24 hours a day."

Nearby, two police officers stand by buses in the bustling car park outside the complex, watching the immigrants.

He continued: "I don't know how I'm going to make the journey across to the UK.

"Every night many of us try to break into the Eurotunnel site so that we can sneak on to a train, and every night the buses bring us back here."

Iranian Radbeh Nameghi, 24, says he fled his country for political reasons. He said: "I want to build a happy life for myself and I cannot do that in my country.

"I have paid people $1,200 to help me get into the UK to claim political asylum but I was just dumped here. I, like everybody else here, will do whatever I can to cross the English Channel.

"If that includes risking my life by jumping on to a Eurotunnel train then I will do that," he said.

A blanket marks the spot where refugees climb over the barbed-wire fence on to Eurotunnel tracks just a mile away. They run on to passing trains or lie on tracks like human buffers in the vain hope that the trains will slow down enough for others to jump on.

One Eurotunnel insider said: "The bus drivers who ferry the refugees back to the camp each night after they are caught breaking into the Eurotunnel site know them so well now, that they even know their names.

"We are not allowed to stop the trains or slow down at any stage of the journey for fear of immigrants getting on board the trains.

"We always find clothes, shoes, passports, English phrase-books, kitchen knives and scalpels used for breaking into lorries by the tracks – where the refugees discard them so they can use a false identity to claim asylum.

"It is getting frightening. Last week a female worker was pushed around and intimidated by about six immigrants whom she had discovered on our site.

"We know the refugees carry knives to break into trucks so they could just as easily use them to hurt us.

"It's a nightmare, I don't know how we can possibly stop the hundreds of immigrants breaking in every night."