Illegals tunnel out of French camp

5th January 2004, Comments 0 comments

MARSEILLE, France, Jan 3 (AFP) - Eight people staged a daring escape from a controversial holding centre for clandestine immigrants in the southern French city of Marseille on Saturday by digging a hole under a wall, police said.

MARSEILLE, France, Jan 3 (AFP) - Eight people staged a daring escape from a controversial holding centre for clandestine immigrants in the southern French city of Marseille on Saturday by digging a hole under a wall, police said.

The eight, who were from five different countries and were in the process of being expelled from France, managed to reach the centre's staircase and then disappeared into the port of Marseille in the early hours of the morning.

The centre, with accommodation for 48 people divided into dormitories, is located in a shed on the end of a quay of Marseille port area.

The group of 20- to 44-year-olds, who included Moroccans, Russians, Algerians, Moldovans and at least one Palestinian, are now the subject of a return order at borders.

Their flight is set to renew the debate over the future of the Arenc holding centre, which is regularly criticised by immmigrants' support groups for being in a state of delapidation and decay.

The centre, which is kept under guard by some 40 French frontier police officers, was set up back in 1964 as a "secret prison" and has been in official operation since 1975.

Arenc was singled out in a 2001 report by the 45-nation Council of Europe, which awarded it the title of having the filthiest detention conditions of any centre of its type.

Debate is now raging at a local level about whether the centre should be merely renovated or rebuilt from scratch.

"Arenc is an old centre. It needs to be done up," the deputy regional adminstrator of Marseille, Jacques Belpey, conceded on Saturday.

"But such an operation takes time... The choice between rebuilding and renovation is a difficult one."

© AFP

                                Subject: France news

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