Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)



  60. Are you saying then, your Excellency, that if the British Government requested it your Government would agree to asylum claims being considered in France? Are you quite clear on that?
  (M Bernard) I think that the British Government, if we were to do such a thing, might run the risk of establishing a constant flow of people coming to the desk and asking for immigration to Britain.

  61. Is that what the British Government have said to you or is that what you think might happen?
  (M Bernard) That is what I imagine.

  62. You are imagining the problem but has a request been made to you?
  (M Bernard) No, not to my knowledge.

  63. It has not been made at this point?
  (M Bernard) No. This idea has been floated around but it was not decided in any way.

  64. Do you feel that the French Government has responsibility for the situation of stopping the flow of transport and trades through the Channel Tunnel?
  (M Bernard) I think, madam, that the French Government makes its best efforts to establish freedom of movement, but at the same time the French Government is particularly eager to come to the assistance of the British Government in preventing clandestine immigrants from reaching British shores.

  65. What are you proposing to do in that case?
  (M Bernard) As madam Chairman said, the issue would be to try to solve the existing problem and the idea of a closure of Sandgate is a common objective that we have with the British Government, provided that a certain number of conditions are met and in particular that the pull factors that attract so many clandestines to Britain are got rid of by the British Government.

  66. What are those conditions to be met before closure?
  (M Bernard) The fact of the attractiveness of Britain is probably the major problem. As long as it is attractive people will flock, coming from all parts of the world, mostly for the time being from Afghanistan and Kurdestan in Iraq, and they will continue to flock and to come as long as they have the idea that conditions are easier in Britain and that it is easier to establish oneself in Britain than elsewhere. At some stage we will have to find at European level, and we are already doing it with the British Government, a way to stop these flows coming from outside. France is never the first country to be afflicted by this problem. They always come from elsewhere in the European Union.

  67. Are you saying then that the conditions you require before you consider closure are for the perception of asylum seekers and what would happen to them in the UK to be changed? It seems a rather tall order.
  (M Bernard) No. We have a common objective with the British Government to close down Sandgate because it is probably more painful for the Calais is than it is for anybody else. Even if we were to close Sandgate under satisfactory conditions, nevertheless we would have to deal with the problem on a much larger scale, which is the problem of people coming into the European Union and coming to France and other countries.


  68. Are the people of the Pas de Calais happy with this timetable?
  (M Bernard) The people of Pas de Calais, madam, just dream that the problem will be solved.

  69. What encouragement do they get from the French Government to believe that the dream will in fact get a solution before very long?
  (M Bernard) Suppose for one minute that we were to close Sandgate tomorrow morning. There are 1,300 people. Where do they go? They will go, as they did before Sandgate was opened, into the city of Calais, settling down anywhere, creating a problem of security, a problem of law and order to a population that is particularly annoyed by that. But at the same time, madam, these people who are in Sandgate, are people that have to be respected. They are human beings that have to be treated humanely. This is why, instead of having them flocking in the streets and creating disorder, it is better that they can look after their children in a proper manner in Sandgate centre. If we can succeed in finding a solution for them then we have that one dream, which is to close Sandgate.

  70. Your Excellency has emphasised that many of these people have come from regions well outside the European community and in fact France is not their first border. Has the French Government considered strengthening its border and re-imposing controls between itself and other European countries?
  (M Bernard) Madam, we are within Schengen and we consider things in the Schengen fashion. We are eager to reinforce the external boundaries but we have no intention of contravening the Schengen agreement.

Chris Grayling

  71. Ambassador, can you tell us how many asylum seekers who have been involved in attempts to get on to trains, and we are aware that there has been a considerable amount of criminal activity in terms of damage to property and so forth, have been prosecuted?
  (M Bernard) To my knowledge the figure of those who have been arrested by the police for a while and interrogated grew in a very enormous manner from 20,000 in 1999 to 45,000 in 2000 (my figures are rough) and 80,000 in 2001, and we will probably have 120,000 people stopped by the police and interrogated. That does not mean that it is that many people because the same people are stopped several times, four times in general.

  72. How many have you actually taken to court and prosecuted for criminal damage?
  (M Bernard) We have to start with those who are helping to smuggle in the people.

  73. I am thinking about those involved in the direct assaults on Fréthun to get on to trains and previously at Coquelles where the individual asylum seekers have been cutting down fences, breaking and entering complexes. I appreciate that there are those who are involved in organised crime across Europe to do that but in a sense that is a separate issue to the actual on the ground situation.
  (M Bernard) I was simply starting by the judicial affairs that have been carried out in this matter. It includes the people who are arrested. It includes also the people who are smuggling them. I think it is about 700 of those who were arrested. As for the people who are immigrants who are arrested, they are indicted only if their illegal presence here is accompanied by illegal activity. I am sorry, I will send it to you tomorrow but I do not have the exact figure.

  Chairman: We would be very grateful, your Excellency, if you could send us a note on the number of people actually charged for criminal damage at Fréthun.

Chris Grayling

  74. Can you assure us, your Excellency, that your authorities do actually prosecute those who are found committing criminal acts, cutting their way into these complexes, rather than simply taking them back to Sandgate?
  (M Bernard) As long as they have not done anything criminal they are taken back to Sandgate, but if they have in one way or another committed something illegal this is sent to the Procureur de Boulogne, who is the man in charge and who has, as you may imagine, a large number of files in front of him.


  75. M Douté, could I ask you how much money have you received from the French Government to help pay for the additional protection at Fréthun?
  (M Douté) As I mentioned, the amount of works have been 1.5million euros for the first phase and 7.5 million for the current ongoing effort, so these are all paid outside SNCF, as I mentioned, by RFF. Otherwise, of course, the involvement of the French Government has been the security forces which have been provided ever since the trouble started.

  76. Could I ask you for a definition of those? Perhaps His Excellency will tell me. Are these gendarmes or are they SAIS? What is the status of the people protecting the area?
  (M Bernard) They are gendarmes, madam Chairman, but they are also, apart from gendarmes, the security from SNCF and they are also from private security companies who are assisting the gendarmes.

Andrew Bennett

  77. SNCF—how far have you really lost money as a result of these problems?
  (M Douté) Our expenses are various. Of course, there are first of all revenue losses from what is lost in terms of traffic, so this is the largest amount.

  78. Is that a significant part of your total activities?
  (M Douté) The traffic with Great Britain is about 2% of our overall traffic. Of course, if we were considering this like any normal business, we would have stopped for a long time doing any business through the tunnel. To give you an idea, our overall revenue is between 35 million and 40 million euros in a normal year. For this year it will be less. On the other side, just to provide you with the figure, what we are paying to Eurotunnel in terms of toll and so on and their expenses, that part only is 44 million euros, and of course we have to pay for this specific traffic, all the security forces, our own people and the contracts we have with private security companies. We have to maintain the works which have been done, and of course we have damage to our goods, we have damage to our passenger traffic. To give you an idea, in just April there were 450 passenger trains which were stopped because of the presence of immigrants and overall 20 minutes per train were lost. All these are costs, most of which are hidden and they are on top of the revenue losses and other direct expenses.

  79. And there is also some damage to some of your staff. Some people have been injured.
  (M Douté) Yes, that is right.

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