Memorandum by Eurotunnel (CHT 04)
RAIL FREIGHT AND THE CHANNEL TUNNEL
During 2001, 50,000 would-be asylum seekers
were intercepted on the French terminal of Eurotunnel in Coquelles.
They had forced their way into the terminal in repeated attempts
to board departing freight shuttles.
In the first half of the year, the disruption
to Eurotunnel's business was calamitous, resulting in prolonged
closure of the system and revenue losses in excess of £15
million. The solution was a significant strengthening of fencing
and other physical measures around the platform area, the so-called
"inner cordon", coupled with a massive reinforcement
of security guards at a total cost (to date) of some £6 million.
The problem is now controlled. Eurotunnel's
shuttle services are no longer subject to disruption and few asylum
seekers manage to penetrate as far as the platforms. But the problem
has not gone away.
There are still nightly attempts to breach our
security systems. Repairs to our external perimeter fence are
costing up to £10,000 per week. One effect of the heightened
security has been to make the stowaways more desperate and reckless.
Seven asylum seekers have died attempting to board our trains
and many more have suffered grave injuries.
The other effect, of course, is that some of
the problem has shifted to SNCF's poorly-protected freight yard
and the rail freight services operated by SNCF and EWS.
The immediate need is for massive strengthening
of the security around the Fréthun yard. Until the public
authorities in France decide who is responsible for carrying out
this work and put it into effect, the rail freight service will
continue to be a target for stowaways. But more security measures
alone will not suffice. Both governments need to take action to
complement the efforts of the transport operators.
The French authorities must provide more effective
policing in and around the rail terminals in Coquelles and Fréthun.
It is simply not acceptable that the gangs of people smugglers
who prey on the asylum seekers can break into their facilities
night after night with total impunity. All those stowaways we
apprehend are promptly released to try again.
Secondly, something must be done about the Red
Cross hostel at Sangatte, which is used by the gangs quite openly
as a logistical base for their activities. We believe that the
residents should be re-deployed to several smaller, more distant
and more suitable locations.
The French authorities are reluctant to do much
more because, in their view, the British government is doing absolutely
nothing to tackle what is, after all, a British problem. They
were unimpressed when the British government's response to the
arrival of immigrants at Dollands Moor was simply to seek to fine
SNCF (ie the French taxpayer) and EWS. What then should the British
In the first place they must begin to process
asylum claims from refugees while they are still in France. The
present policy under which they refuse totally to deal with claims
at Sangatte or Coquelles (despite the presence of UK Immigration
Officers), but give the right to stay in Britain to anyone who
successfully penetrates our defences undermines the efforts of
the operators. More to the point it gives the asylum seekers no
choice and every incentive to risk their lives as stowaways. It
also drives them into the arms of the people smugglers.
To complement this policy the Immigration Service
must send back to France immediately anyone who does succeed in
In the longer term there are other changes that
need to be made, probably at a European level. We have in mind
a revision of the Dublin Convention and a harmonised policy on
the treatment of refugees but the rail freight operators cannot
wait for that to happen. Unless the governments act positively
in the near future there will be no international rail freight
between Britain and France.
Director of Public Affairs
17 May 2002