Asylum Seekers - International Perspectives on Interdiction and Deterrence


Following the closure of the reception centre at Sangatte, administered by the International Committee of the Red Cross the governments of Britain and France announced the establishment of a policy called “juxtaposed controls”, which would allow British immigration officers to work in the ports of northern France (and the French officers to conduct inspections at Dover). This chapter will consider the ambiguous legal protections afforded immigration detainees at Coquelles Freight terminal and the other offshore detention facilities. It will argue that the impetus behind the policy—to stop “clandestine entrants” who might also be asylum applicants appearing on the British mainland—is inherently punitive and jeopardizes core human rights, such as the right to asylum.

Britain is now laying the foundation stone for offshore borders all over the world.

Liam Byrne, British Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality, (Home Office, 2007)

Edited by Alperhan Babacan and Linda Briskman (Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008)

Coquelles Freight Terminal, France 2005

In the European summer of 2005, a team of British inspectors visited three non-residential holding centres at Coquelles and Calais in northern France. The centres, established under international treaty allow Britain’s Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) to detain “clandestine entrants” en route to the United Kingdom. No distinction is made between categories of entrant; yet it is likely that asylum applicants are among those detained. 

Under the le Touquet treaty, which came into effect in March 2004, detention is allowed for a period of up to 24 hours and can be extended to 48 hours in exceptional circumstances (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 2006, appendix). These detention centres, according to the report by Britain’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, are largely “out of the public gaze” (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 2006, 5). Immigration detainees are picked up from trucks, or caught while trying to cross the Channel without valid documents. 

To reach the accommodation block at Coquelles Freight terminal, the inspectors entered an external pathway between the building and perimeter that was covered by insubstantial roofing sheets, with wire fencing on the open side. Opaque gauze covered the fencing, to provide some protection from the elements. At the end of the path, the team found a block of six almost identical rooms – measuring four metres by three. These were the rooms, staff called “dog kennels”. During the inspection, the rooms were empty – though wet after being hosed down that day. In the corner of each was a hole-in-the-ground toilet, with three-quarter length screening, and a small stainless steel sink with a single tap (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 2006, 23).

Solid block benches, covered by thin plastic-covered pads, ran along three walls. Apart from a tiny heater, there was no furniture “offering any comfort in the room”. 

Staff told us that people emerging from under lorries, or after long periods of living rough, were often unclean and sometimes infected. As a consequence, rooms were routinely hosed down. No spare clothing was on offer to replace dirty or infested clothing. We saw some paper suits but no staff member asked could recall one being handed out. No blankets were available (in winter) despite the cold weather. (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 2006, 24)

The staff confirmed that when they were occupied the rooms became extremely smelly. With the door closed, the only ventilation was a vent above the toilet and a mesh-covered hole (17 cm by 12 cm) at the bottom of the door. Air conditioning was due to be installed (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 2006, 24). On a busy day, six people could occupy the room, and yet there was no room-sharing risk assessment. Rooms had no alarms, but staff checked them every 20 minutes. No light filled the rooms, other than that which entered through the small hole in the door and the one external wall. “The strip light outside threw some light into the room, if custody officers turned it on. With the door closed it was extremely gloomy even in day time.” (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 2006, 24)

Immigration detainees with children could stay together in one of the holding rooms, but there were no toys, reading material or games. Children could not go outside for fresh air. From May to July 2005, the facility had been occupied on 43 days, with a total of 202 people. Nine were women; 33 were minors or possible minors with given ages ranging from 10 to 17. The largest number held on any one day was 24. In June, a family with a ten-year-old child was detained for 8 hours (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 2006, 27). Limited documentation was available on-site regarding detention, but incomplete records provided by the private contractor, Securicor (G4S) indicated an average duration of seven and a half hours; the longest detention period was 11 hours 45 minutes (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 2006, 27). None of the detainees, in the three months’ records provided, entered Britain. 


Exporting the Border, or Undermining International Law?

The Coquelles Freight Terminal detention centre is one of the detention centres operating under the system of ‘juxtaposed controls’ which allows for British immigration officers to conduct their duties on French soil. The British Home Office has called this policy a success, while critics argue that it has engendered a situation where international law is routinely undermined. In the following section I will consider how the uncertain protections afforded those held in the detention centres in northern France reflect a broader emphasis upon interdiction and deterrence. 

The Home Office in its response to the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons report noted that the detention was for “inadequately documented passengers and illegal entrants attempting to enter the UK, prior to their being handed over to French authorities” (Home Office Speeches, accessed 31 July 2007). The Government stated that the facilities were intended to hold people “very briefly”, while acknowledging that with arrivals at ports operating 24 hours a day people could be held overnight. The Government acknowledged that it needed to clarify the “primacy” of UK law in the centres’ operation. It also recognized that there might be a need for a system of independent monitoring of the short-term facilities, comparable to that on the British mainland, and signaled that the use of Coquelles Freight – the site of the so-called “dog kennels”—might be reviewed. 

Within these two recommendations—the need to assert the primacy of UK law and for enhanced scrutiny—we find the basis of criticism levelled at the arrangement between Britain and France called juxtaposed controls. The 2003 Treaty between the Government of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and the Government of the French Republic Concerning the Implementation of Frontier Controls at the Sea Ports of Both Countries on the Channel and North Sea was negotiated after the closure of the controversial Red Cross Sangatte centre near Calais.

The Treaty, signed at Le Touquet, France on 4 February 2003, allows British immigration officers to exercise full immigration control procedures at the ports of northern France; at Calais, Coquelles, Dunkirk, Boulogne and other sites as necessary. French immigration officers can do the same at Dover. The legislation builds on that relating to the Channel Tunnel, which similarly established a process where British officers could check departing passengers and freight before arrival in the United Kingdom. More recently, the Home Office has called for this power to be expanded so that private contractors, employed by the British Border and Immigration Agency, can fingerprint, escort and detain suspected “clandestine entrants” until a UK immigration Officer arrives. 

The significance in this legislation is twofold. First, it epitomises the growing trend of “internationalisation” in immigration control (Oxfam 2005), what the British Immigration Minister, Liam Byrne, has called “exporting the border”. Inherent in this arrangement are legal ambiguities that affect due process and threaten international human rights protections. Yet, it also represents one of the more surprising aspects of globalization; that is, despite repeated calls to uphold national sovereignty and “maintain the security of borders”, states are increasingly looking towards others to do this work for them in the area of immigration. Arguably, this weakens the very principle of national sovereignty that such legislation purports to uphold. 

According to the Statutory Instrument 2003, the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Juxtaposed Controls) Order 2003, within the “Control Zone” in the “State of Departure” (France) officers of the “State of Arrival” (Britain) can carry out their immigration responsibilities. However, it also states that French officers have the power to arrest and detain a person for a period of 24 hours for the “purposes of immigration,” which can be extended (Home Office 2003). The fact that a person can be detained for the purposes of investigation, rather than a suspected offence is significant. Moreover, French officers, according to the law, are immune from prosecution for any offence committed in the UK control zone.

British law, relating to detention and terrorism, broadly applies in the offshore detention centres at Calais and Coquelles. However, it is not clear whether the safeguards stipulated within section 38 of the Operation Enforcement Manual—information used by British Immigration Officers when deciding to detain—informs such parallel operations in the French control zone. In Britain, considerations that might lead to a decision not to detain include whether the person is under 18; has a history of torture or shows signs of physical or ill-health. The manual includes other statements relating to the treatment of vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women, children or people suffering from chronic mental illness. Arguments can be made about whether or not these directives are followed (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 2006, 64). But on the question of grounds for detention, and possible exemptions, the juxtaposed controls legislation is strikingly non-specific in comparison to that which applies in Britain. 

Following the refusal to enter the United Kingdom, British officers inform French border police who organise removal. If the person is of no interest to French police and legally in France, they are released. From this description it appears that British officers, not French police, are responsible for the decision to detain. Most importantly, the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons report states that British immigration officers do not accept applications for asylum on the basis that the claimant is on French territory. No exception is made for asylum applicants seeking to be reunited with close family in Britain (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 2006, appendix).

The juxtaposed controls legislation states who is authorised to detain, but does not detail specific factors affecting the detention authorisation. The question of who detains—a French or British contractor, French police officer or British Immigration Officer is important as each operates under different legal codes and cultural practices. Relevant parts of British immigration law—including those relating to detention powers and the prevention of terrorism—are applied by British immigration officers, supported by police officers from Kent and the Special Branch (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 2006, appendix). But it is not clear how this affects French contractors or police. 

The lack of clarity as to which country’s law is responsible has two primary outcomes. First, it affects the operation of the centres—a situation that is further complicated by the involvement of a private corrections company, Securicor (G4S). Second, it creates a situation where the people held in the centres have little understanding of how to enforce their legal, or human rights.

Among the Securicor (G4S) staff working at Coquelles Freight terminal, there was also confusion as to which law applied—French or British—in terms of their daily duties and responsibilities. Many did not know what their powers where in terms of the use of force, or what they should do in response to suspected acts of self-harm or suicide. They also largely worked in isolation from local authorities and emergency services that could have indicated how to meet French health and safety, healthcare, child protection or disability obligations (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 2006, 5). 

Securicor (G4S) information refers to the company’s involvement in the “operation of holding facilities and holding rooms at ports, which provide temporary, secure accommodation for immigration detainees awaiting decisions or action in their right to enter and remain in the country” (Securicor G4S, accessed 25 May 2007). This description makes their role seem rather passive, but this could soon change following the introduction of mooted legislation that would give them the same responsibilities as UK Immigration staff. 

The proposed order would allow the UK Immigration service to employ “suitably qualified and trained personnel through a private contractor” to complete the “important but straightforward” function of apprehending, escorting and detaining someone suspected of committing an immigration offence. Under this order, contractors would be able to search vehicles at Calais, Dunkirk and Boulogne; physically search “clandestine entrants”, then detain and escort them to an immigration officer. This period of detention should not be three hours, or “as speedily as is reasonably practicable, pending the arrival of the immigration officer” (Home Office 2006).

The London-based Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA) has issued a statement expressing its concern about this proposals to authorize private contractors to act independently in circumstances defined (that is, in the searching vehicles; the detention and escort of individuals to the nearest facility where they can be held for three hours and finger-printing of individuals) without British or French officials being present (ILPA 2006, 1). Dominating the Association’s July 2006 statement is concern about what it calls an uncertain legal framework.

Laws and controls relating to “Frontier Controls” of the “state of arrival” (in Calais, those of the UK) apply for breaches of applicable laws relating to related immigration matters. However, in the instance of any other suspected offence, the laws and regulations of France apply. Of central concern to the Association is the uncertain status of the private contractors. Under which system of laws and regulations, it asks, would they be acting? Added to this is the fact that some of the private contractors will be French nationals. Who would then be responsible for any breach, the contractor or the British Immigration Officer purportedly directing and supervising them? (ILPA 2006, 5).

The Association acknowledges that, according to the Council of Europe, detention is considered to be the “most severe penalty” European member states are permitted to exercise against individuals. As a result of this the ability to detain an individual is “jealously guarded” by member states and seen to be a key element of its functioning as a sovereign state (ILPA 2006, 5). Yet, what dominates in the documentation relating to this arrangement of “juxtaposed controls” between Britain and France is not so much a highly codified process preceding detention, but rather vague statements, which assume that detention has become a predictable first rather than last resort.

The second outcome of the uncertain legal framework governing the centres is that almost no legal information was provided to the immigration detainees at Coquelles Freight at the time of imprisonment, according to the report on the 2005 inspection, aside from some verbal explanation. It was highly likely that the detainees only received documentation until after they left (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 2006, 26). On occasion, immigration detainees were given a form which explained that they were illegal entrants into Britain, with limited right of appeal, liable to detention and return by French authorities. They were not necessarily given documentation, as would be the case in Britain, providing information on how to challenge their detention, or complain about conditions (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 2006, 26). No free telephone call was offered to contact a lawyer, or embassy official, and there was no public pay phone. 

Immigration detainees, moreover, lacked adequate information about reasons for their detention and access to qualified advisers on British immigration law (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 2006, 5). Yet, potential asylum applicants would be barred from making a protection claim in Britain because of their location on French territory. This is in keeping with the Dublin Convention, signed in 1990, that requires asylum seekers to lodge their applications in their “first country of entry” in the European Union (EU). This principle remains highly contested as a justifiable reason for a state’s not assessing asylum applications (Thompson 2003, 15). Not only does it deny the possibility of valid reasons for an asylum seeker to lodge an application in one country, rather than another—close family ties; historical and linguistic links; a lack of adequate protection and assessment capability in the second state; or other risks that may endanger the applicant’s human rights or safety—but it also “shifts” the responsibility without taking into account individual circumstances. 

More subtly, the transfer of immigration controls to a third state has the potential to undermine local examples of good practice. France has traditionally had one of the most codified systems within the European Union in terms of detention. France does not allow the indefinite detention of asylum seekers at the start of their claim, or prior to deportation. There are 100 zones d’attente (holding centres) in metropolitan France where asylum seekers can be held for four days before judicial intervention is required to authorize its continuance (Terre d’asile, viewed 31 July 2006). Immigration detainees can be held for a maximum of 32 days, but recent figures indicate that the majority are detained for 63.4 hours. Within 48 hours, the first decision on an asylum claim is made (another 48 hours of detention may result from a questioning of that decision). Any further detention requires approval from a tribunal judge.

In contrast, Britain does not have any statutory limit on the length of detention and asylum applicants, particularly under its accelerated or “fast-track” processing, are routinely held. Seventy per cent of all immigration detainees in Britain in the first quarter of 2007 had claimed asylum at one stage (Home Office, 2007). It is important to note that Britain does not maintain annual detention statistics. The figure of 1,435 referred to above was accurate as of 31 March 2007 and does not include those being held in police cells and prisons, which the Chief Inspector of Prisons has found understates the actual figure by 60 per cent (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 2006, 65).

It is difficult to asses the direct impact of the “juxtaposed controls” legislation on French asylum and immigration policy. However, there is evidence to show that in other contexts—most notably when similar arrangements were developed on the German–Polish border and in central and eastern European states prior to their accession to the European Union—the outsourcing of immigration control has led to a toughening of immigration measures, designed at stopping arrivals in the receiving state (Rigo 2005, 10; Byrne 2007 passim). This desire to stop irregular immigrants appearing on the British mainland may also be leading to a reticence among French authorities to hear asylum applications on its territorial borders.

French asylum statistics do not specify whether applicants passed through the Coquelles Freight terminal as a result of juxtaposed controls; nor does the information available indicate how many people detained at Coquelles terminal later applied for asylum in France. However, approximately the same time as the Le Touquet Treaty was negotiated a detention centre was opened in the town of Coquelles. Designed to hold 75 people, it is often overcrowded with people sleeping on folding beds in the television room and, on occasion, the isolation cell. Instances of verbal and physical abuse are not uncommon, although the conditions are generally considered to be better than other centres in France, which have been called among the worst in Europe (Les Invisibles website, viewed 1 June 2007). Twenty-seven children with their families were held there in 2005, as well as a number of heavily pregnant women with young children. None of the information available notes the percentage of asylum applicants. 

Of the 2,322 people held in the Coquelles detention centre in 2005 more than half were sent there from other European countries; of these 523 were returned to their country of origin and another 758 sent to another European state (CIMADE 2005, 106). The first country of return for the immigration detainees is neighbouring Belgium, then Germany, Italy, with Britain low on the list (11 people were returned there in 2005). The vast majority of those held at Coquelles are Indians trying to get to Britain (509 people, or 21.95%). Most are stopped on trucks coming from Belgium, returned, only to try again. (CIMADE 2005, 106). The centre at Coquelles has become controversial in France because of its court on-site, located near a police shooting range and bus station, which opened in June 2005. The court does not decide asylum applications, but rules on detention matters. Judges and lawyers have boycotted a similar plan to locate a court within the detention centre at Roissy airport, which has delayed its opening (Gil-Robles 2005, 49). One man, detained at Coquelles described the experience of appearing before the court: 

I was in the tribunal; it’s completely closed with police spread out all around the room. I thought I was back at the police station. It’s not a court; there are police everywhere (CIMADE 2005, 106). 

In one newspaper report, the court is described as a room without windows. Sitting in the court one day in June 2005 was a badly shaved Turk called Ali Youskaia, who nervously pinched his cheek as he listened to the judge and lawyers. Youskaia had spent seventeen days in detention and was waiting on a reply to his asylum claim (Saberan 2005). The local government had asked to extend his detention so that it could organize his deportation. “I want to be freed”—this was the only phrase the man kept repeating, before he was eventually released. 

In 2006, more than 2,500 people (2,556) asked for asylum in France; a 12.2% increase on 2005. (Ofpra 2006) The vast majority of the applications were made a Roissy airport in Paris (96%), with a tiny fraction being made at regional airports and ports, which possibly include those of northern France (0.5%). This small number of border applications corresponds with the report of a visit to France by the European Union’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Alvaro Gil-Robles, in September 2005 where he expressed surprise at the “very low” number of applications at French ports: 

When I visited Arenc (Marseilles), I learnt that there were only some twenty applications a year. Only seven had been made from January to September 2005. On examining the register of entries and exits, I realized that illegal immigrants spent very little time in the waiting zone before being expelled. The average length of time they are kept at Arenc is between two and three days. As the senior officer who showed me around explained to me, illegal immigrants arriving by boat are often sent back the same day on the same boat they arrived on (Gil-Robles 2006, 52). 

“This makes me wonder whether foreigners are really given the opportunity to apply for asylum,” he continued. “It would seem that some stowaways are not even allowed to disembark from the ship on which they are discovered and are detained on board until the ship sets sail again.” Gil-Robles noted the case of two Congolese citizens, without documents, who were expelled before they could lodge a claim. In protest against their treatment they leapt out the portholes of the ship and were seriously injured. 



Britain has heralded its juxtaposed controls with France as an unquestionable “success” (Home Office 2007, accessed 20 May 2007). “Tougher checks abroad” before people can arrive in Britain, as under the juxtaposed controls arrangement in France and Belgium have led to a reported 70 per cent “reduction in unfounded asylum applications for the whole of the UK” (Home Office 2007, accessed 20 May 2007). The British Government also states in a press release that the system has led to an 88 per cent fall in the number of clandestine entrants in Kent in 2006 compared to the same period in 2002 (Home Office 2007, accessed 20 May 2007). However, it is possible that the 2002 figure is not representative of typical trends as that year had a “high” of 50,360 people refused entry and removed, as compared with 31,930 refusals in 2004 and 17,220 at port in 1994 (The United Kingdom Parliament, Select Committee on Home Affairs, Fifth Report 2006, accessed 21 May 2007).

The catch-phrase for the series of restrictive pre-entry measures, which include 34 British Airline Liaison Officers (ALOs) in 32 international airports (The United Kingdom Parliament 2006); the juxtaposed controls in France and Belgium; ID cards for foreign nationals living in Britain and the introduction by April 2008 of a biometric visas for nationals of 135 countries is “exporting the border” (BBC News, 2007). The new biometric visas will consist of digital finger scans and a full-face digital photograph; these images will be sent to London to be checked against a central government database. Such information will become useful for immigration officers during operations seeking out “illegal workers”, a Home Office spokeswoman explained. “Staff can take readers with them—they look a bit like games consoles. Then when they get to say a factory or a restaurant, they can check people’s fingerprints there and then,” the spokeswoman said. “Someone might say, ‘I’ve got a work visa’, but in five minutes the officer will know if they’ve actually got a tourist visa. Then we can detain them there and then.” (BBC News 2007). 

However, it is difficult to assess the “success” of the juxtaposed controls in northern France because of the absence of official statistics from these locations. The British Home Office does not maintain data on asylum-seeking immigration detainees held at Coquelles, or Calais. The Asylum Statistics for the first quarter of 2007 (January–March) show a fall in asylum applications, which are 1% lower than the previous quarter and 12% lower than the first quarter of 2006 (Home Office Asylum Statistics 2007, 2). In terms of asylum seekers in detention, the data only refer to those in mainland centres and “short-term holding facilities” on the mainland at Colnbrook, Manchester Airport, Dover Harbour and Harwich (Home Office Asylum Statistics 2007, 10). Statistics from France are similarly general, but do provide information about applicants at the border requesting admission on the grounds of asylum.

The British Immigration Minister, Liam Byrne has stated that international alliances, such as the juxtaposed controls between Britain and France close routes to those attempting to abuse the system, while enabling legitimate travelers to pass freely. Tackling “illegal immigration” is also cited as an important way of maintaining public confidence in the country’s system. “It is essential that we have a fair and effective system, trusted by the public as a whole and those who rely on it,” he said (Home Office 2007). “The days when border control started at the white cliffs of Dover are over,” he added. “Our immigration control needs to start well before people come anywhere near British shores.”

Much criticism has been made of this policy of “exporting the borders” with opponents describing the initiatives as “blunt instruments’ that risk barring genuine refugees and undermining Britain’s international obligations. Even though a report by the British House of Commons Home Affairs Committee on Immigration Control praised the series of checks at Calais by French and British authorities it noted that equipment in use was not entirely reliable or effective and that “no efforts” had been made by the Government to determine how many people stopped from traveling to the United Kingdom might have a legitimate claim to protection (House of Commons 2006, 53). 

A 2004 Select Committee on Home Affairs from the British House of Commons found that it has become “increasingly difficult” for asylum applicants to enter the UK (United Kingdom Parliament, Select Committee on Home Affairs Fifth Report 2006, accessed 21 May 2007). Moreover, as a result of such restrictive measures those who manage to make an asylum claim in the UK tend to be “young, male, healthy, educated and with access to significant financial support and less likely to be old, female, ill, uneducated and poor” (United Kingdom Parliament, Select Committee on Home Affairs Fifth Report 2006, accessed 21 May 2007) -- and therefore not representative of the world’s refugee population. Because of this, the Committee argued that the British Government had a “moral responsibility” to provide alternative and legitimate means for asylum seekers to enter its territory, while also assisting refugees closer to their country of origin and tackling the roots of enforced migration.

A 2005 OXFAM/Refugee Council report has argued that there are a number of serious problems with the juxtaposed controls in France and Belgium. First, it leads to a displacement of people to countries on the edges of the European Union, and also shifts the responsibility to poor countries closer to the refugees’ regions of origin. It also encourages asylum seekers to take more dangerous risks; UNITED, a European anti-racism network, has documented more than 6,300 deaths of non-European citizens trying to get to the EU since 1993 that it attributes to the toughening of asylum laws (Oxfam Refugee Council 2005, 8). Such measures have also, the organisations argue, led to an increased reliance on smugglers and traffickers, while undermining shared notions of refugee protection and international law.

And as the 2005–06 inquiry by the House of Commons Committee found, people are still trying to cross the channel. At Calais there were 9,652 detections of “clandestine entrants” in 2005 (which might include multiple attempts by the same person) a trend that continued into the first three months of 2006, with almost a third of that number again trying to cross the border (House of Commons 2006, 54).


“Burden-sharing” between Britain and France post-Sangatte

The logic behind the move towards juxtaposed controls is not new. A 2004 explanatory memorandum relating to the extension of the administrative arrangement between Belgium and the United Kingdom—at Brussels’ Gare du Midi and London’s Waterloo expresses the idea of “burden sharing” succinctly: 

Anyone trying to claim asylum at United Kingdom juxtaposed controls abroad will be directed to the authorities of that member state country. This encourages asylum applicants to claim international protection at the earliest opportunity (Home Office 2004, 7.1)

Elsewhere, the Home Office referred to “clandestine entrants” at the ports in northern France being handed over to the French authorities for “processing” (Home Office website, accessed 21 May 2007). This idea of obstructing the onward movement of asylum applicants was made explicit during parliamentary debate in 2002 when the former Home Secretary, David Blunkett, stated that the “shifting of border controls” to France has “shifted the immigration and security check and ensured that people will not get here; stopping people entering clandestinely has to make more sense than trying to process them and send them back whence they came” (Refugee Council 2002, 3).

This logic that asylum applicants en route to Britain are the responsibility of France betrays the legacy of Sangatte, the Red Cross-administered centre that became a source of tension between Paris and London. Located half a mile from the Channel Tunnel and thirty miles from Britain, the centre also came to represent the worst fears of an anxious British electorate. Designed to house 600 people, the centre provided basic conditions—no heating, only a few showers—for a population of approximately 1,500 mostly Afghans and Iraqis at any one time. Over the life of the camp’s existence an estimated 50,000 people were housed there (Fassin 2005, 363). Figures relating to the number of people caught trying to enter Britain are equally striking; in the first half of 2002, Eurotunnel management claimed that it had stopped 18,500 people trying to smuggle themselves into Britain, which equated to 200 people a night (Guardian Unlimited 2002, accessed 27 May 2007). 

Only 350 of the asylum applicants at Sangatte sought protection from France (Fassin 2005, 363). Whether this was because of ignorance—only 11% of residents surveyed in 2002 knew of their rights to apply for asylum in France—or other factors, such as family and community ties in Britain, is difficult to assess. However, the impact of this fact on British public opinion, media coverage and political discourse continues to inform contemporary policy decisions, such as juxtaposed controls. Thompson found that the concept of “choice and asylum seeking” dominated in public discourse between March 2001 and April 2002, with the result that the entire asylum seeker population at Sangatte was tarred as undeserving and their claims deemed “bogus” (Thompson 2003, 8; Schuster 2003, 513). British tabloid newspapers such as the Daily Mail called for militaristic intervention, running headlines such as “Stop the invasion”, “We can’t take any more asylum seekers”, “Asylum invasion reaches 12,000 a month”, “Asylum: we’re being invaded”, and “Refugees, run for your life” (Schuster 2003, 511; Tempest 2002).

Schuster has described the popular response in Britain to Sangatte as a “migration crisis” marked by an “hysterical media campaign in which tabloid newspapers use the language of war” (Schuster 2003, 511). Such a perspective continues to inform the official statements relating to juxtaposed controls. The media release announcing the establishment of restrictive measures following the closure of Sangatte is interesting in this regard. Entitled “UK/French Cooperation Key to Combatting Terrorism and Illegal Immigration” the joint statement from the then-Home Secretary, David Blunkett and former Interior Minister, now President, Nicolas Sarkozy warns against the “threat of displacement” (of the refugee population) to other French ports and along the northern European coastline (Home Office 2003, accessed 1 June 2007). This tone continues when the two politicians agree to maintain their “fight against global terrorism”, and yet the initiatives wholly relate to “illegal immigration”.

The three measures announced were the signing of an agreement for the UK immigration controls in Calais to be extended as needed; the “deployment” of technology to “spot illegal immigrants by their heartbeat or body heat” at Dunkirk and Cherbourg and proposals to increase the number of deportations for failed asylum seekers and immigrants from France (Home Office 2003, accessed 1 June 2007). Search techniques such as manual searches, dog teams and CO2 probes would also be used. “People will be refused entry to the UK,” Blunkett said. “The latest technology will make it increasingly difficult to hide in lorries and trains.” Throughout the document there is a constant slippage between “illegal” immigration and terrorism, with Blunkett at one point stating that “international terrorists have no respect for borders”. 



Uncertain legal frameworks and the perception that states are trying to evade their responsibilities are not confined to the policy of juxtaposed controls. Goodwin-Gill writing a little over two decades ago wrote of policies of “humane deterrence” under which refugees and asylum-seekers were “deliberately detained for indefinite periods, or simply as a result of the careless or willful disregard of the refugee elements in individual cases” (Goodwin-Gill 1986, 193).

The apparent underlying motivation for this behaviour was to use the detained asylum applicants, for instance, as an “example” for those who might be coming in the future. 

Thus, Indo-Chinese refugees in South East Asia are sometimes admitted only to closed camps. They are either held pending resettlement or voluntary repatriation, or are confined indefinitely, without immediate prospects of alternative solutions, as part of policies of “humane deterrence”. Refugees of other nationalities are frequently left at liberty. (Goodwin-Gill 1986, 203) 

Much of the rhetoric of “humane deterrence” continues to inform contemporary asylum policy within the European Union. Statements are made about the need to “stem the tide”, as Goodwin-Gill phrased it, and deal summarily with unfounded cases through accelerated, or “fast-track” processing where asylum applicants are routinely detained at the beginning of their claim. 

None of the people detained at Coquelles Freight terminal, according to the 2005 records, entered Britain. What is unknown is whether among those in the so-called “dog kennels” there were people with protection claims that in another context might have had a chance to succeed. 



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—— 2005b, Les enfants ont droit à un avocat, ils ne l’ont jamais, Journal l’Humanité, 6 January 2005. 

BBC, New visas “exporting the borders”, Wednesday 8 August 2007. 

Byrne, M. 2007. Fortifying Europe: Poland and Slovakia under the Dublin system, The Contemporary Europe Research Centre, April 2007.

CIMADE. 2005. Centres et locaux de detention administrative, Paris. 

Conseil National des Barreaux. 2005. Rapport sur l’avocat et retention administrative des étrangers, Paris. 

Explanatory Memorandum to the Channel Tunnel (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Order 2004, no. 2589. 

Fassin, D, 2005. Compassion and repression: The moral economy of immigration policies in France. Cultural Anthropology, vol. 20, no. 3, 362–87. 

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