The people of Calais and Dover prepare for the closure of Sangatte

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The Independent Online

Richelieu Park in Calais looks an untroubled place. Baskets of flowers line the manicured lawns. On sunny days people come to sit and read or maybe to visit the Second World War museum inside the park.

Richelieu Park in Calais looks an untroubled place. Baskets of flowers line the manicured lawns. On sunny days people come to sit and read or maybe to visit the Second World War museum inside the park.

Three years ago, before the Sangatte centre opened, things were very different. The park was a marshalling point, a haven for many of the people trying to cross the Channel into Britain. They slept rough, huddled in Richelieu and nearby St Pierre Park. Yesterday, there were strong fears that it could happen again.

With wildly conflicting reports about the French government's intentions towards Sangatte and claims that Britain's Home Office is negotiating the fate of those already in the Red Cross refugee camp, residents living near the park fear an influx of asylum seekers en route to the UK.

"If the government decides to close the centre in Sangatte where will they all go?" asked Evelyn Sangier, 32. "Now they have a place to sleep."

Philippe Devof, 41, remembers when the refugees slept here. He also says that closing the centre will supply only a temporary solution to a bigger problem. "You close Sangatte they keep coming," he said rolling his arms to emphasise this point. "You close Sangatte they keep coming," he repeated.

Across the Channel just off Market Square in Dover, residents are just as interested in the past week's developments as their French counterparts. Their concern is edged with anger that France is doing too little to address the problem.

"Refugees will still try to come to Britain," said Nicola Hubbard, 60. "And we still have the fact that the French police need to deal with refugees in France before they come here."

John Adamthwaite, 37, agreed. "Refugees can come from Sangatte. They can come from Calais. They can come from Paris. If the French government does not care if they come into Dover we shouldn't be dealing with them."

In nearby Folkestone Road, in a working-class section of Dover, asylum seekers crowd into bed and breakfast hotels. They do not mix with the locals and tensions between the groups have been strained.

Understandably the refugees here do not want to talk to the press. One man in his 30s would give his name only as Mohammed. He said he had paid people smugglers thousands of pounds to get to France and would have tried to enter Britain regardless of the Sangatte centre. "The conditions there are very bad but I would still choose to come to England," he said.

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