EVERY TIME an illegal immigrant arrives in Britain, the carrier responsible becomes liable for a £2000 fine. Introduced last March, this policy prompted English Welsh & Scottish Railway to threaten to withdraw its freight services through the Channel Tunnel, which had become a favoured means of access to Britain by illegal immigrants gathered in large numbers near Calais. As EWS has no powers to search wagons before they leave the SNCF yard at Fréthun, it considered the imposition of fines unacceptable, and refused to pay. By August 9 fines imposed on EWS and other rail and road operators had reached £12m.

In a bid to resolve the issue - or at least to put pressure on the British government to press its French counterpart for effective action - the Freight Transport Association has asked for a meeting this month with the Home Secretary.

The Home Office has meanwhile proposed to extend the fines to cover Eurotunnel’s lorry shuttles. This triggered a strong reaction from Eurotunnel, which said on August 15 that it will seek a judicial review of the proposal, which it believes to be unlawful as it is contrary to the rules laid down in the Treaty of Canterbury and its Concession Agreement.

Eurotunnel has recently spent £3m on security measures to protect the 32 km perimeter of its Coquelles terminal, with razor wire fencing and over 200 CCTV cameras installed, while over 100 security staff are on patrol every night. It says that it prevented over 18500 would-be asylum seekers from entering Britain in the first half of the year, although 3000 succeeded in beating the security measures.