UK to take in 1,200 migrants as Sangatte is closed

Ian Burrell Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 03 December 2002 01:00 GMT

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The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, boasted of having moved the British border "across the Channel to the French coast" yesterday as he announced that 1,200 migrants from the controversial Sangatte camp in France would be allowed to come to Britain.

Mr Blunkett said that Britain would take 980 Iraqis and 200 Afghans who were residing at the Red Cross-run camp, which will close ahead of schedule on 30 December.

France has agreed to take the remainder of the 4,800 migrants who have registered at Sangatte since September, as well as to introduce tighter security measures all along France's Channel coast.

The Home Secretary, speaking alongside his French opposite number, Nicolas Sarkozy, at a press conference in London, described the closure of the camp and the new security arrangements as a "breakthrough of enormous proportions". Both ministers backed the setting up of full UK border controls at Calais, although changes need to be made to an existing treaty.

Mr Blunkett said: "It effectively pushes our border controls across the Channel to the French coast, where stronger controls and tighter security will mean we can prevent illegal immigrants getting to the UK in the first place."

But refugee support groups were alarmed that the tough regime – which will also include British heartbeat detector equipment being deployed to check lorries at Cherbourg and Dunkirk – would make it impossible for genuine asylum-seekers to reach this country.

Julia Purcell, of the Refugee Council, said: "Britain's proposals to extend immigration controls beyond our own borders is a worrying precedent and flies in the face of Britain's international obligations to play its role in providing sanctuary to refugees."

Ms Purcell accused the Home Secretary of "blurring the definitions" of refugees and economic migrants by refusing to accept the 980 Iraqis as asylum-seekers.

The Iraqis, who are almost all Kurds, will be given four-year work visas and will be dispersed around Britain to jobs suitable to their skills and experience. They will initially be given a living allowance and accommodation for a three-month period, during which they will be given training and allocated work through job centres. The Government believes that by offering the Kurds the opportunity to work it is saving on the £18,000 average cost of an asylum claim.

The Afghans are being accepted under a family unification programme and the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has been called in to assess whether Afghan residents at Sangatte genuinely have relatives in Britain.

British and French intelligence services have been monitoring Iraqi and Afghan migrants arriving in northern France to try and detect potential terrorists. The Home Secretary's spokesman said: "British and French intelligence have been very active in that neck of the woods for quite a while. All these people will be security-cleared before they come here. We have their names and backgrounds."

Mr Sarkozy described the Sangatte centre as a "scandal". He said that 67,000 asylum-seekers had passed through the building, which has been the scene of five murders.

He said: "If we kept Sangatte it would be a symbol of the inefficiency and lack of responsibility of democracies to deal with the problem of illegal immigration."

The French Interior Minister claimed that since the "magnet" of Sangatte had closed its doors early last month, the number of new migrants arriving in the area had fallen to 10 a day from 400 a day at the height of the traffic.

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