One third of France's shipwreck refugees go missing

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The Independent Online

More than a third of the 900 Kurds shipwrecked on the French coast 10 days ago have disappeared without trace, presumed to have joined illegal migration trails to other European countries.

More than a third of the 900 Kurds shipwrecked on the French coast 10 days ago have disappeared without trace, presumed to have joined illegal migration trails to other European countries.

Unless they register with French authorities by today, they will have forfeited their right to apply formally for asylum in France and can be sent back to Iraq.

Most of the missing Kurds are believed to have travelled to Germany, Belgium or Switzerland to join large Kurdish communities. Some may have made their way toward the Channel ports but there are, as yet, no confirmed reports of passengers from the deliberately wrecked freighter, the East Sea, turning up in Red Cross shelters in Calais or in England.

Last Tuesday the 900 Iraqi Kurds rescued from the freighter were given eight-day "safe conduct" passes by the French authorities to allow them to make formal requests for political asylum. They were then free to move as they pleased in France.

About 300 of them have completed the paperwork, and 200 others are expected to, having been turned back at the German, Belgian or Swiss borders. But 360, including many children, have vanished.

Cynical commentators may say this was what the French authorities wanted, or expected. The eight-day safe conduct rule has been blamed by other EU governments as an invitation to asylum-seekers to go underground and try to reach other European countries.

But for the East Sea refugees, who have touched a nerve of popular sympathy in France, the French government appears to have gone out of its way to persuade them to complete asylum procedures.

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