Select Committee on European Union Thirty-Seventh Report

Appendix 5

Note of Visit to Calais and Sangatte—Tuesday 25 June 2002

I.  Mr Bill Dix, Deputy Managing Director, Eurotunnel and Managing Director, Shuttle Services

1.  Mr Dix said that at the beginning of 2001 there were daily invasions of the terminals, with 60-70 asylum-seekers arriving each day, mainly on the freight trains. In the whole of 2001 54,000 people "attacked" the terminal and 5,000 got through. Ten people had died in the attempt. With advice from Sir Roger Wheeler, the former Chief of the General Staff, Eurotunnel had put in place major improvements in security, notably the installation of 30 kms of high security fencing and 350 additional security guards. The capital cost of the fencing and CCTV cameras was £3m and the annual cost of the additional security guards £3m+.

2.  The freight terminal at Fréthun was now the main focus of attention. The freight trains were vulnerable because they had to change locomotives at Fréthun; the car transporters, which were open, were particularly easy to target. At present only about three freight trains were running each day out of a normal complement of 25. SNCF were in the process of putting in place the sort of measures that Eurotunnel had taken, but it was said that the work would not be completed until the end of November.

3.  Mr Dix made a number of suggestions for addressing the problems caused by Sangatte, which was attracting between 60 and 70 new arrivals each day:

  • break up Sangatte into three or four smaller centres and move them further away from the terminals
  • improve security
  • allow asylum-seekers to apply in Sangatte for asylum in the UK
  • re-introduce the "gentlemen's agreement" that operated between France and the UK in 1995-1996
  • put British police in France (on the same basis that Eurotunnel paid for services from the Kent police in the UK).

II.  M. Cyrille Schott, Préfet for Pas-de Calais

4.  M. Schott, who was supported by members of the Gendarmerie, the Police and other state agencies, emphasised at the outset that France was doing all it could to stop the asylum-seekers going to the UK, but it was not possible to send many of them back to their own countries (90 per cent came from Afghanistan and Iraq) and with 30 million passengers crossing the Channel each year it was impossible to stop all of them.

5.  There were three separate sites that were targeted by the asylum-seekers: industrial estates, but security had been tightened up considerably

    Calais Port: this was now well protected as a result of the efforts of the Chamber of Commerce, and extra police had also been drafted in. The main problems were outside the Eurotunnel terminal: this was a difficult site to protect as it was surrounded by the Port: on the motorways and with trains being stopped at St Omer and Dunkirk the freight terminal at Fréthun, which was managed by SNCF: a major upgrade of security was in hand, at a cost of ?m7.5. The fencing would be finished by the end of July and a surveillance camera system installed by the autumn. Staffing had been increased and the Préfet had obtained 80 additional gendarmes, to be followed by a further 30.

6.  The CRS and the police were deployed at the Eurotunnel terminal and Calais Port in addition to 300 border police, 300 customs officers (and 200 police in Calais itself).

7.  Despite all these measures the pressure was increasing as shown by the rising number of arrests:

No. of arrests
2002 (first six months)

368 had been arrested the previous night.

8.  Priority was given to targeting the "passeurs" (people-smugglers). So far in 2002 130 had been arrested (of whom one third were British) and severely dealt with. There had been two murders among the passeurs. The Centre at Sangatte, was not itself the problem but "l'expression du problème". It had opened in 1999 mainly to accommodate Kosovan asylum seekers, but since then the population had changed significantly. The population varied from 1,100 to 1,500. Since the beginning of the year 350 had been sent back to "safe" countries. The closure of Sangatte was an objective but not an immediate option until the underlying causes of its existence had been addressed, which required the harmonisation of asylum laws with other EU countries. At present the United Kingdom was simply too attractive, providing hotel accommodation, money and work opportunities for asylum seekers. France did not give asylum seekers money, which was probably the most significant difference between the British and French systems. Fewer than five per cent of those picked up by the police applied for asylum in France. They knew that once they had applied for asylum in France they could not apply in the United Kingdom. Some did so only because they did not have the money for the crossing.

9.  The French Government was taking action on a number of fronts:

  • putting pressure on SNCF to improve security at Fréthun
  • improving security at Arras and in the nearby villages
  • taking action against the passeurs
  • asking SNCF to limit the period during which they sent freight trains through the Tunnel, initially from 7 p.m to 3 a.m. and then from 2 p.m. to 3 a.m.

10.  But action was also needed on the British side:

  • increasing the presence of the UK Immigration Service, of whom at present there were only 134
  • reacting more strongly to intelligence about passeurs (co-operation between the police was good and improving, but on occasion the French had been disappointed that the British had not taken stronger action on the information they had given them)
  • more co-operation between prosecutors.

III.   Visit to the Centre

The Sub-Committee was accompanied by the Director of the Centre, M. Michel Derr and his assistant.

11.  Noteworthy points arising from the briefing and the visit itself included the following:

  • the population of the Centre was 1,200. The Director would like to reduce it to 900
  • there were about 50-60 children under 12 in the Centre
  • since September 2001 the average age had reduced considerably
  • there were 85 paid employees at the Centre
  • the services provided were very basic
  • infection (particularly scabies) was a problem; the medical facilities were very limited
  • accommodation took the form of dormitories (in portakabins) or tents (without heating or lighting)
  • all the food was brought in
  • most residents arrived by train (invariably accompanied by passeurs) and walked (or sometimes took a taxi) to the Centre.
  • in 2002 there had been 56,000 arrests; some were arrested as many as 20 times
  • there was a heavy police presence at the Centre
  • there was a good deal of tension between the different communities
  • the authorities informed the police of any passeurs they identified (many of them Kurdish).

12.  The Sub-Committee also had separate discussions with M. Derr and Mr Smaïn Laacher, a sociologist working at the Centre. M. Derr emphasised that Sangatte was still a temporary Centre. When asked for his solution to the problems that had given rise to the establishment of the Centre, he said that there was a tendency to criminalise immigrants. If everyone arriving in the Schengen area was given a "permis de voyage" this would enable them to travel freely (and for example stay in hotels) without resorting to the smugglers.

13.  M. Laacher described the main findings of his research—a summary is contained in Appendix 6. He explained that EU funding had been obtained for further research over a period of three years, looking at countries of origin and exchange of experience between Member States.

14.  M. Laacher said that the solutions to the problem were very difficult, complicated as they were by issues of national sovereignty and identity. In present circumstances the "passeurs" could not be eliminated; they were a necessary evil. Asked about trafficking, M. Laacher said that they had identified only two or three cases of young (under-age) women being brought in for prostitution.

IV.  Lunch with Elected Representatives

15.  Those attending the lunch included the Mayors of Bonningues, Coquelles and Fréthun, the Deputy Mayor of Sangatte, a Conseillére Regionale for part of Calais and Members of the Jeune Chambre Economique, who had been responsible for organising the visit. The elected representatives each gave a brief account of the problems caused for their Communities by the existence of the Centre:

    Fréthun (1,100 inhabitants) was particularly affected by the problems of the SNCF terminal, which had worsened at the end of 2001. Ninety extra police had been drafted in and arrests were still running at a high rate:


    There were also problems of petty crime and conflicts between different ethnic groups. The Mayor accepted that it would not be practical to close the Centre at the present time.

    Coquelles was at the entrance to the Tunnel. Problems were caused by residents of the Centre in groups of up to 50 making their way to Calais and the freight terminal along the streets, through the fields and on the autoroutes. They were very noisy at night and in the morning, but as yet there had been no impact on house prices.

    Sangatte (4,129 inhabitants). Residents of the Centre were in the village all the time; there were fights between them and they disrupted the bus service (by kneeling in prayer). Tourism had stopped altogether because the 10 kms of beach was unusable.

16.  The Conseillère Régionale, Mme Gest, a member of the Green Party, gave a different perspective. She said that the "clandestins" were very polite and did not cause any trouble. Part of the problem was that the French authorities did not give them the opportunity to apply for asylum in France, as had been discovered when an Arabic speaking member of Parliament had gone to the Centre and explained that they could apply for asylum in France. As a result the Green Party had produced a leaflet in different languages explaining how to apply for asylum. The Green Party was demanding a proper application of the 1951 Convention, amendment of the Dublin Convention and a change in procedure giving people the opportunity to apply for asylum in Calais instead of requiring them to go to Arras.

17.  The Mayor of Bonningues, (who was also Chairman of the Inter-Communal Group) said that any local measures would only displace the problem, which was one that the United Kingdom and France should not have to deal with alone.

V.  Transport undertakings

18.  Representatives of the different cross-channel undertakings each gave short presentations to the Committee.


19.  Between January and June 2001 the number of illegal immigrants targeting Eurotunnel had increased fivefold, largely because the effect of carriers' liability legislation had shifted the activity of would-be immigrants to Eurotunnel. Regular cancellations had resulted. In July, August and September 10,000 people a month were stopped on the site many of whom would have been trying repeatedly.

20.  Following advice from Sir Roger Wheeler, measures to strengthen security were put in place in three phases. The main elements were:

Phase I (July 2001) A zero tolerance plan was put in place, including:

  • an increase in the number of security agents from 100 to 370
  • the erection of reinforced fences around the platform areas (an area of seven hectares)

Phase II (July-December 2001)

  • personnel training was introduced to discourage corruption
  • regular patrols by six teams were introduced
  • surveillance cameras were installed
  • lighting was improved
  • a policy of immediate renewal of broken fences was introduced
  • a CO2 detection system was put in place and lorries scanned to detect human occupation
  • under-lorry searches were initiated
  • video surveillance equipment was installed to pinpoint intruders on site
  • sniffer-dog patrols were started

Phase III—which had now been achieved—was a return to normal operation. Almost no-one was now reaching the platform area although about 22 a day were being found in lorries.

21.  From October/November 2001 there had been a transfer of "attacks" to freight trains. The SNCF site had borne the brunt since security at Eurotunnel had been improved. Freight trains normally parked for 1 to 1½ hours before embarking to enable the locomotives to be changed. Safety inspections took place. Controls include a carbon dioxide detection system and exposure to sniffer dogs. But there were points on the track before and after Calais where would-be illegal immigrants could stop the trains by tampering with signalling equipment or causing the brakes to engage. This also disrupted passenger lines.

22.  The numbers arrested had risen from 763 in September 2001 to 6412 in April 2002. There had been 3018 arrests so far in June. Those caught were handed over to gendarmes and returned to Sangatte or to the border police.

23.  Trains had to return to base to be searched if anyone was found on board. Because of the expense of the extra security freight departures were being restricted to departures between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. so that all resources could be concentrated in this period. There were 80-90 personnel on site except for Sunday-Monday when there was less traffic. Freight trains were being processed in the local freight area to ease congestion in the international freight area, and to be less visible and vulnerable to attack.

24.  The number of trains was down to between seven and ten a day from a potential of 15-16. Substantial loss of revenue had resulted—?18m to date in 2002. The objective was that a 24 hour service should be resumed by the end of November.

25.  The measures being put in place and due to be finished by the end of July were:

  • Double 3m fencing and barriers to replace current fencing—length 4 ½ kms
  • external fence and intrusion detection system
  • vegetation and grass cut back for easy detection
  • trouble spots on line and infra-red detection system linked to control room at a cost of ?9m.

Calais Car Ferry Terminal (Calais Chamber of Commerce)

26.  The Port of Calais and the Calais Chamber of Commerce had been ordered by the French Government to tighten up security and reinforce the Calais Car Ferry Terminal. A new department, the SPS (Security, Prevention and Safety department) with 55 employees, had been created two years ago to deal with the matter. Efforts were concentrated on easy access spots and 37,700 would-be immigrants, known as "non-accédents", had been handed to the police in a period of 22 months. However, individual drivers had become less vigilant as a result of the recent court ruling on carriers' liability

28.  Additional measures being taken included:

  • erection of 1,800 metres of new "smart-fencing"
  • installation of a guarded, permit-only car park with barriers
  • dog patrols of lorries
  • a study of video surveillance equipment

  The budget for these improvements was ?6.1m for installation costs and an annual ?3m for operating expenses.


29.  The Seafrance representative made the following points:

  • The reason so many "non-accédents" went to England was because housing was provided immediately and £37 per week as well. They were economic migrants not asylum seekers. In addition, there were no identity cards in the United Kingdom as there were in France, and there was immediate provision of schooling for the children.
  • Everyone at Sangatte was living illegally in French territory and was liable to a fine and a maximum of two years in prison. But all were freed if caught, to attempt to cross again.
  • It was absurd that the Port of Calais spent more time on people who wanted to leave France than on those who wanted to enter it. On average 50 passengers a month were prevented from embarking.
  • Security was being put in place. The number of "illegals" getting through this way had dropped.
  • Coincidentally there was an increase in forged documents turning up at the Port. Carriers could be fined if forgeries were accepted that were "reasonably apparent". But it was forbidden by French law to use infra-red detection systems. So, many were getting through.
  • There was a trend not to seek asylum on arrival in the United Kingdom because of the likelihood of repatriation but just to disappear into the black economy.

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