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September 11th, 2001 The Immigration Law Practitioners Association in the UK and the Groupe d'information et de soutien des travailleurs immigrés in France today condemned the hypocrisy of the British and French Governments which is leaving asylum seekers with no protection and private companies liable for substantial fines if asylum seekers are found on their carriers crossing the border between the two countries.
"The announcement of Eurotunnel on 21 August that it was starting legal actions in France and the UK to try to avoid fines for persons found clandestinely entering the UK highlights the problem. The failure to provide protection for persons in need is the source of the dispute. On the one hand there are people who are trying to get to the UK to seek asylum. They cannot get to the UK as they are blocked in France as no transport company will give them passage because they intend to seek asylum in the UK. If they manage to stow away on ferries, lorries or trains, the drivers and companies are fined in the UK for bringing undocumented persons to the UK even though these people apply for asylum on arrival. Thus the UK is placing substantial penalties on private persons and companies for failing to keep out persons seeking international protection. Now this system is being extended to Eurotunnel and quite reasonably it is seeking relief from the courts. It is not the fault of private companies that people are persecuted abroad and seek protection here" said Elspeth Guild, chair person of the ILPA European Sub-Committee and a partner at the London law firm Kingsley Napley.
"The failure of the French Government to provide any measure of help to some foreigners resulted in the Red Cross stepping in and providing shelter and food in the Sangatte camp for these foreigners apparently trying to get to the UK to seek protection. This camp is only a few kilometres from the Eurotunnel and the conditions are very spartan. The people at the camp are seeking protection from persecution in their country of origin but the French Government is providing no assistance to them. There are no French officials at the camp to assist these persons to apply for asylum in France and to help with their immediate needs. It is quite apparent that the French Government would rather these people apply for asylum in the UK than in France" said Nathalie Ferré, president of GISTI.
Guild and Ferré agreed: "The situation is unacceptable. These two Governments, both signatories of the UN Convention on Refugees, are playing games trying to avoid responsibility for people in desperate positions who are seeking international protection. They are using private companies and humanitarian organisations like the Red Cross as scapegoats for their own unwillingness to take responsibility for their international commitments. It is a disgrace that Eurotunnel has been forced to start these legal actions against both Governments and that the Red Cross should have to provide shelter and food to persons in need in France. Both countries are parties to the Dublin Convention determining the country responsible for asylum applications in the EU, but instead of that convention working to provide protection to individuals it is in effect providing excuses for Government to avoid their commitments."
Chair of ILPA, Rick Scannell said "ILPA has long opposed the use of carrier sanctions as a means of preventing asylum seekers from travelling to assert their claims. Not only does the use of sanctions give the carrier the role of immigration officer, but it ignores the fact that there is no available means whereby asylum seekers can get pre-clearance to come to countries such as the UK to assert their claims for asylum in any event. The consequential 'demonising' of all asylum seekers trying to get to the UK as 'illegal immigrants', this despite the fact that the Refugee Convention requires that an asylum seeker be outside his or her country of feared persecution in order to make a claim to be a refugee in any event, is to be deprecated. As the High Court has long recognised, short of personal invitation by the Home Secretary to make a claim for asylum, putative refugees have, by reason of the carrier sanctions regimes in place, no alternative but to resort to the use of false documents to travel and the extreme measures sought to be taken to come to make their claims."
Note to editors: ILPA is the professional association of lawyers and advisers in the UK who are engaged in immigration and asylum matters. It has over 1000 members. GISTI is the foremost association in France providing legal advice and information on immigration and asylum law in that country.
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