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Last refugees leave Sangatte camp

Beds are burned as the Sangatte camp closes
Beds are burned as the Sangatte camp closes

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IMMIGRATION
Special report: Europe on the move 

LILLE, France -- The immigration center in northern France that has been the cause of diplomatic tension between London and Paris is now empty.

The last group of 10 refugees left the center, at Sangatte, near the English Channel, and were moved to other regional centers as the Red Cross emptied the building so it can be torn down.

"The center is empty. There are no more refugees under our protection," Muriel Thorens, a Red Cross spokeswoman, told the Associated Press.

The centre had been seen by the UK government as a gateway for illegal immigration to Britain.

In a deal agreed between the two governments, Britain and France will accommodate the centre's former occupants.

More than 1,000 people have been transferred out of the center since the beginning of the month.

Britain took in 946 people, mostly Iraqi Kurds, and France relocated another 131, United Nations officials have said.

A final group of 84 refugees left for Britain on Saturday.

The centre will be officially closed on December 30.

In London, the development was welcomed by the Home Office.

A spokesman said it had only been possible as a result of the "unique deal" struck with the French, which includes tough new UK immigration controls on the French side of the Channel to prevent illegal immigrants getting to the UK.

Refugees prepare to board a bus leaving the Red Cross refugee centre in Sangatte
Refugees prepare to board a bus leaving the Red Cross refugee centre in Sangatte

The spokesman told the Press Association: "The French are taking tough action to disrupt trafficking operations and increased security in the area with the deployment of 1,000 gendarmes.

"Those we are taking to the UK to work have been given temporary accommodation while we identify their skills.

"The overwhelming message we are hearing from them is that they want to start work as soon as possible and we are actively pursuing a number of offers from potential employers.

"The deal to close Sangatte is a major achievement and part of an important joint package of measures which puts us in a much better position to stop illegal immigrants before they set off for the UK."

Figures from the Red Cross show that some 68,000 refugees passed through the centre since it was set up in 1999 in an abandoned hangar owned by Eurotunnel near the French coast.

Most of those immigrants are believed to have reached Britain.



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