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Refugees attempt Channel walk

Eurotunnel sign
Eurotunnel is to increase security patrols  

CALAIS, France -- Security measures at the Channel Tunnel are being stepped up after 44 asylum seekers walked seven miles along one of the main tunnels.

The move comes amid an increasing number of attempts by illegal immigrants to reach the UK from France.

Five suspected asylum seekers were picked up two miles from the British coastline on Wednesday after attempting to cross the English Channel in an inflatable dinghy.

The group attempting to walk through the Channel Tunnel was spotted late on Wednesday night entering a portal into the tunnel via a footbridge across the A16 motorway near Calais, northern France.

The men evaded guards and high-security fencing around the Eurotunnel terminal at Coquelles, about two kilometres (1.2 miles) from a Red Cross shelter in Sangatte, housing about 1,200 refugees, mainly Afghans, Iranians, Iraqi and Turkish Kurds.

A team of police officers and Eurotunnel officials used the service tunnel, which lies between the main freight and passenger tunnels, to intercept the group, said the Press Association.

The men were escorted back to France for questioning by French police and immigration officials.

Eurotunnel spokeswoman Camille Newall told the UK's Press Association news agency: "The group were allowed to enter the tunnel because it is better to contain them in the tunnel than have them gathering outside at the portal. No one was hurt and we stopped these people passing through the tunnel."

"We are now going to increase the number of guards at the portals from tonight but it does not seem to matter what we do," she added. "What is so frustrating is that we are a private transport company, not a frontier control point."

Police told Reuters news agency they caught a further 300 people trying unsuccessfully to break into the Coquelles terminal overnight.

Eurotunnel has asked a French court to shut the Red Cross camp in Sangatte, which it blames for rising numbers of illegal immigrants stowing away on its trains to Britain.

"This proves once again the need to moving the refugee centre at Sangatte," a Eurotunnel spokesman told the news agency.

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