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

Memorandum by Eurotunnel (CHT 04)


  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 government do?

  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 reaching Britain.

  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.

John Noulton

Director of Public Affairs

17 May 2002

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