Memorandum by the Department For Transport
RAIL FREIGHT AND THE CHANNEL TUNNEL
1. The problem of would-be illegal immigrants
exploiting rail freight services through the Channel Tunnel has
been developing over the past four years. Initially the problem
largely originated in the Italian freight yards around Milan,
where illegal immigrants were smuggled into containers before
these were despatched through France; but increasingly would-be
illegal immigrants have been arriving in the Calais area by other
routes. The problem of illegal migrants living rough in the Calais
area led to the decision by the local authorities to requisition,
from Eurotunnel, a disused construction hangar at Sangatte to
convert into a Red Cross hostel. This has since been exploited
by criminal gangs of traffickers and facilitators who direct the
residents towards the various cross-Channel operations.
2. From January 2001 the numbers of illegal
immigrants arriving in the UK on Eurotunnel's shuttle trains each
month increased rapidly, reaching a peak of 807 in July 2001.
To combat this disruption to their services, Eurotunnel installed
progressively more robust anti-intrusion measures and increased
its security resources. These took effect from August onwards;
the result was that the traffickers looked to the weakest link
in the area, which was now the freight yard at Fréthun.
Although the French railway companies SNCF and RFF (the French
infrastructure manager) had been talking since April last year
of installing improved fencing and other security measures by
the end of the year, this work had not started in October 2001
when the mass invasions of the freight yard began.
3. On 5 November 2001 the French rail freight
operator, SNCF, announced that it was imposing restrictions on
freight services through the Channel Tunnel because of the activities
of illegal immigrants. These came into effect on 6 November 2001
and are still in place.
UK FREIGHT OPERATORS
4. The effect of the restrictions on rail
freight through the Channel Tunnel is being felt most particularly
by the operator English, Welsh and Scottish Railway International
(EWSI) and their customers, by freight aggregators and those responsible
for rail freight terminals such as Daventry and Hams Hall. Before
the restrictions began, EWSI and SNCF ran some 96 import trains
a week. Since restrictions came in, the best week has seen 47
import trains run. Most weeks have seen fewer than 40. Up to 180
immigrants per week have been reaching the UK on these services.
SNCF are currently trying to process six trains a day.
5. EWS advises that it is losing £500,000
a week. The disruption is also affecting wider interests, both
major industry (in particular Scotch whisky and car industry)
and freight forwarders/aggregators. Some of the operators have
advised that they have been obliged to switch to other modes of
transport in order to keep their supply chains running. The Rail
Freight Group estimates that 8,000 jobs are at risk. Some forwarders
have commenced redundancies. SNCF estimates that the current commercial
demand is for around 75 trains per week (cf 96 pre-November).
The damage to the business will be long-lasting.
6. The Rail Freight Group has approached
the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) to provide compensation to
UK companies affected by the disruption. The SRA has indicated
that those companies should in the first place pursue the options
for compensation open to them under their commercial contracts,
or through direct enforcement in the French courts of European
Regulation 2679/98 on the free movement of goods. Companies seeking
to enforce it directly through the French courts could include
in their action a claim for losses incurred as a result of the
restrictions. The Government has offered practical advice on the
French legal system through its Paris Embassy.
UK GOVERNMENT ACTION
7. In 2001, the Home Office extended the
Civil Penalty regime (introduced in 2000 for the road haulage
industry) to rail freight through the Channel Tunnel, to put pressure
on SNCF to adopt tighter security at its Fréthun terminal.
The improved checking procedures introduced, in particular at
Calais port, to avoid these penalties resulted in a displacement
of the illegal immigrants' activities to the Eurotunnel terminal
at Coquelles (to which the Civil Penalty regime was subsequently
extended in October 2001)
8. The Government has been pressing the
French Government from the outset to take decisive action to address
the problems at Fréthun. The problems at Fréthun
however illustrate, starkly, broader issues concerning migration
which affect borders elsewhere within the EU and the EU's external
border. The Government has therefore also been actively seeking
solutions to the wider problem, multilaterally within Europe,
bilaterally with France, and by reforms of our procedures for
dealing with asylum applicants.
9. The Minister for Transport, John Spellar,
raised the problems at Fréthun with the then French Transport
Minister, Jean-Claude Gayssot, on 7 November 2001 in New York,
and had regular contact (meetings, telephone conversations, four
letters) from then onwards. Stephen Byers wrote on three occasions
to M. Gayssot and, after the French presidential elections, to
Gilles de Robien.
10. The Prime Minister wrote to Lionel Jospin
three times on this issue, as well as urging a resolution of the
problems in conversations at London, Stockholm and Barcelona Summits.
11. There had also been contact between
the Home Secretary and the French Interior Minister, and between
the Minister for Europe and both Hubert Vedrine (the previous
French Foreign Minister) and the French Ambassador.
12. A sub-group of the Anglo-French Cross-Channel
Commission has been set up specifically to deal with rail freight
disruptions. So far it has met once, on 25 March.
13. The Government welcomes the strong interest
that the European Commission has taken in this matter and the
action it has taken in invoking Regulation 2679/98 on the free
movement of goods to seek explanations from the French Government
on the action it has been taking to remove this restriction. In
an attempt to seek a fuller understanding of the problem, the
Commission called a meeting in Brussels on 30 May between representatives
of the British and French Governments and representatives of the
Commission Directorates on the Internal Market, Transport, and
Justice and Home Affairs. The outcome is reported below.
14. The response of SNCF and the French
Government has been disappointing. UK Ministers have made clear
to the new French Government that the current position is intolerable.
The Government considers that four concurrent actions are necessary
to enable normal train services to resume:
substantial fencing and other fixed
security measures such as closed circuit television, intrusion
detectors and lighting;
sufficient security guards to deal
with the numbers attempting to breach the fixed security measures
and maintain a secure environment for the train services;
sufficient police or gendarme support
for the security guards to enable them to maintain the secure
efficient searching of the trains
within the secure environment, both to remove any clandestine
migrants that manage to breach the security there, and second
to remove any clandestine migrants who boarded the train before
it arrived at Fréthun.
15. A first stage of physical works-improved
fencing-was finally completed in February 2002. This fencing has,
however been repeatedly breached.
16. Police support has, since November,
been focussed on a night-time window, now running from 17:00 to
06:00. The level of police resources available was only significantly
increased in April this year. It has however not been dedicated
to the terminal, and there have been occasions when the support
has been temporarily reduced or withdrawn for operational reasons.
17. The interim French Government appointed
following the May presidential elections has shown a much stronger
desire than its predecessor to get a firm grip on the situation
in Northern France. In a telephone call to the Home Secretary,
the interim Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy indicated a commitment
to ensuring that policing resources were made available around
the clock. He has subsequently announced that the gendarmerie
resources currently in place would be permanently posted to the
region and that additional (temporary) resources would be made
available in September.
18. At the meeting in Brussels on 30 May,
the French provided a timetable for improved security measures,
to be completed in November. We would prefer a faster timetable
and have pressed the French to look carefully at how they could
accelerate it. We expressed our willingness in principle to help
in any way we can. In particular we are willing to provide specialist
detection equipment. Close bilateral contacts between UK and France
18. Some 30 trains are currently operating
each week. Over the past 10 days, there has been a significant
drop in the number of illegal entrants (29 reported by the Immigration
Service in the last 10 days, compared to 107 in the previous 10
20. The Home Office is dealing with the
underlying immigration and asylum issues, some of which require
multilateral measures that will inevitably take time. Meanwhile
the Government will continue to urge SNCF and the French authorities
to bring forward proposed improvements in physical security at
the Fréthun freight yard, to offer practical support and
financial support (though we understand SNCF and RFF have funding
in place), and to review progress regularly with them. Physical
measures such as improved fencing and automated surveillance systems
are, though, necessary but not sufficient. Experience has shown
that there is a need for an integrated programme including police
resources to intercept and disperse large groups of intruders.
We shall be seeking ways of working with the French to encourage
and develop "best practice", drawing on the experience
from Eurotunnel and others.
Department for Transport
1 As a result of various legal challenges, the Civil
Penalty is not currently being enforced against road hauliers,
has been ruled not to apply to EWSI and has been quashed in relation
to Eurotunnel. The Home Office accepted in February 2002 that
the penalties raised against SNCF for the period from March-September
2001 should be waived, as SNCF had provided evidence that it was
complying with the terms of the relevant Code of Practice. The
penalties have not been reintroduced, despite the problems since
October 2001, because of the danger of alienating the French in
an area where their co-operation is essential. Back