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Sangatte refugees arrive in UK

Sangatte has been closed to new entrants since early November.

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Special report: Europe on the move 

PARIS, France -- The first of 1,200 asylum seekers from the Sangatte camp near Calais have arrived in Britain under an Anglo-French deal to close the refugee centre.

A group of about 40 Iraqis arrived on Thursday afternoon in Britain via a Channel Tunnel train, having left the Red Cross camp early in the morning.

They had been processed at a Calais UK government-run centre, a Home Office spokeswoman told the UK Press Association.

"The refugees left the centre at around 6:30 a.m. filled with joy. All the Iraqis in the centre lined up to wish them well as they left," a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Reuters.

The group was the first of 1,200 asylum seekers that Britain has agreed to accept under a deal with the French government to close the camp.

They were fingerprinted and photographed and security checks carried out, the Home Office spokeswoman said.

"The 40 that are coming today will be going to London," a Home Office spokesman said.

"We are not saying where for security reasons. This is a sensitive issue and we need to handle it sensitively."

The camp closed to new entrants on November 5 and will close completely on December 30 -- four months earlier than planned -- with the site handed back to the Channel Tunnel's owner, Eurotunnel.

The asylum seekers will be given four-year UK work visas and helped to find jobs.

The camp will be dismantled when it closes at the end of December.

UK Home Secretary David Blunkett said earlier this week that Britain would take 1,200 of the 4,800 people registered at the camp.

He described the closure of "a festering sore in Anglo-French relations" as a "major achievement."

French interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy said the camp, which has handled 67,000 asylum seekers in the past three years, would be dismantled.

UK immigration Minister Beverley Hughes said the deal "transforms [British] border controls with UK frontier controls now effectively on the other side of the Channel."

"Since the talks between us began, the French government has deployed 1,000 gendarmes in Calais, dealt with hundreds of illegal immigrants there, disrupted six major trafficking gangs and arrested nearly 250 traffickers."

The Sangatte camp was set up two years ago as dozens of refugees came to the north French coast to make nightly bids to slip into Britain through the Channel Tunnel, often risking their lives to stow away on trucks or trains.

Tensions have risen in recent days among dozens of refugees in and around the nearby port of Calais who did not get into the Sangatte camp in time, Reuters reported.

Despite tightened security in other Channel and North Sea ports, there were fears the human smuggling gangs which used Sangatte would switch their operations elsewhere.

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