- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

LONDON While thousands of refugees are scrambling to flee Afghanistan in anticipation of U.S. retaliation, Britain is tightening its border security in order to prevent them from entering.

"The main aim is to stop people coming from that region and spreading across the world," Home Secretary David Blunkett said last week on a visit to the coastal city of Dover, the country's principal point of entry for illegal immigrants. "We have to put the safety of our own population at the top of the agenda."

Mr. Blunkett announced a raft of new security checks and introduced a battery of high-tech detection equipment, such as X-ray scanners, infrared cameras and even sensors capable of detecting heartbeats inside a vehicle. The new equipment will be deployed first at Dover and Calais, the two entrances of the Eurotunnel, then at other points of entry across the country.

Mr. Blunkett also proposed extending the $3,000 per-person fine imposed on freight drivers found with clandestine passengers to all airlines, ferries and the Eurotunnel. In addition, to speed up the deportation of immigrants whose asylum applications have failed, the government has committed $245 million to increase the number of spaces in its controversial detention camps.

These tough measures were announced in response to the terrorist attacks on America last week, but also to mounting tensions between France and Britain over the growing number of immigrants seeking to cross the Channel from Calais.

Some 500 immigrants, mostly from Afghanistan and Iraq, have converged on the Red Cross-run transit camp at Sangatte, 11/2 miles from the Eurotunnel entrance in Calais.

Instead of applying for asylum in France, they remain there hoping to smuggle themselves into Britain. Every night, a few hundred refugees try to stow away on trains or even walk through the 17-mile tunnel under the English Channel, which links France to Britain. According to British officials, as many as 726 illegal immigrants entered Britain through the Eurotunnel in August alone.

For months, France and Britain responded to the refugee crisis with mutual recrimination.

Recently, however, Mr. Blunkett and French Interior Minister Daniel Vaillant agreed for the first time to try to find common solutions to their problem.

The meeting didn't lead to any major changes, but marked "the beginning of a more extensive process which will see much closer relationships between the U.K., France and our wider EU partners," Mr. Blunkett said. "This is not just a problem limited to Britain or to our relationship with France, but it is a global issue of international mobility, which the uncertainties created by the horrific attack on the United States will accelerate."

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