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Europe

Refugees Block Channel Tunnel

The Eurotunnel between France and Britain was closed down overnight after refugees stormed it. All train traffic ground to a halt. Police detained the illegal immigrants.

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All trains throught he tunnel stood still for ten hours.

All transport in the Channel tunnel between France and Britain came to a halt overnight. Some 150 refugees stormed past security guards at the French entrance to the tunnel near Calais. They tried to make it through the tunnel on foot to get to Britain.

According to a French police official, the refugees broke down and destroyed all security barriers at the entrance to the tunnel.

French police managed to track down and detain all the refugees. Most of them are said to be from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. No one was injured in the incident.

After being closed for ten hours, the tunnel reopened for passenger and cargo trains on Wednesday.

Entry by force

A spokeswoman for 'Eurotunnel', the company that operates the rail link between Britain and France said the refugees gained access to the area "after having broken through electronic locks."

The spokeswoman added that there had not been enough security officers on the French side to intercept such a large group of refugees.

The refugees had managed to cross roughly one fourth of the 40 kilometer (25 miles) tunnel when police from Britain and France intercepted them. British security officials used sniffer dogs to make sure there were no more refugees hiding in the tunnel.

History of failed attempts

Since the Channel tunnel opened in 1994, refugees have repeatedly tried to make it across to Britain. They ignore the dangers of walking through the railway tunnel because they hope they'll be able to find a better life in Britain.

Many of the refugees live in a Red Cross camp which is situated only two kilometers (1.25 miles) from the French entrance to the tunnel. The center houses about 1,000 illegal immigrants from Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

Eurotunnel asked a French court to close down the refugee camp in August of this year. It blamed the camp for the rising number of illegal immigrants stowing away on trains to the UK.

The company said it had spent millions of dollars to increase security at the French entrance to the tunnel. It claimed it prevented more than 18,500 illegal immigrants from reaching Britain in the first half of 2001.

French officials, however, say Britain's relatively liberal asylum laws are to blame for the high number of refugees who try to make it through the tunnel.

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