Saturday 21 April 2018

Calais crisis hits fever pitch in cat-and-mouse with migrants

Ferry workers from My Ferry Link burn tyres as they block a key route into Calais as part of a dispute over job losses. Strike action and attempts by migrants to cross the Channel, below, are causing delays in crossings from France into England. Photo: Getty Images
Ferry workers from My Ferry Link burn tyres as they block a key route into Calais as part of a dispute over job losses. Strike action and attempts by migrants to cross the Channel, below, are causing delays in crossings from France into England. Photo: Getty Images
Two migrants cling to the top of a lorry as it leaves the Eurotunnel site in Folkestone, Kent, following their arrival from Calais via the Channel Tunnel.

Rory Mulholland in Calais

Beware - Do Not Add To Recent Deaths - Danger of Death, says the sign in English, French, Arabic and several other languages posted on the barbed wire fence around the Channel Tunnel terminal.

But the stark warning is not enough to deter the hundreds of migrants who try night after night to find a breach in the fence believing that they will find a better life at the other end of the tunnel.

And there is no sign of any let up. The impact of the chaos in Calais is even set to last all summer, according to British prime minister David Cameron yesterday, as he launched his government's latest attempt to get a grip on the crisis.

Attempting to take charge of the response, the prime minister called the situation "unacceptable" and declared: "We are absolutely on it. We know it needs more work."

He pledged fresh measures to boost security in the French port - including extra sniffer dogs and fencing - but critics claimed they were a "sticking plaster".

Options to relieve the chronic traffic on the M20 in Kent are being considered but specific locations are yet to be confirmed.

Laws including new powers to tackle illegal working will be fast-tracked, while Britain and France plan to put on flights to return migrants to their home countries.

However, Mr Cameron admitted: "This is going to be a difficult issue right across the summer."

The ominous prediction comes as police and social services are already struggling to cope with the impact of the events across the Channel, while businesses, lorry drivers and residents have been hit by the resulting travel chaos in Kent.

Mr Cameron's warning came after a fourth night of disruption at the terminal in northern France, while migrants' desperation to reach Britain was laid bare in an extraordinary picture showing two clinging to the top of a lorry as it arrived at Folkestone. The situation in the French port has reached fever pitch in recent days, and the situation is only set to get worse as camps swell and those caught attempting to get through the fence are released to try again.

Meanwhile, in Calais the nightly ritual at the terminal now sees around 2,000 attempts and Theresa May, the British home secretary, has voiced concerns that migrants may be rushing to make their bid before more secure fencing - paid for by Britain - goes up in the next few days. Those waiting for the cover of darkness to try and break through looked panicked by the idea of tighter security.

Uhrad (30), an Eritrean accountant who reached the Calais camp on Thursday, said that having made it this far, they would not be deterred by tightened security.

Summing up the determination at the port, he said: "You know people will make a way - they will dig under the fence. The ferries became too difficult, so now they are trying the trains. People will swim if that's too difficult."

By around 2am, the port was buzzing with activity, with French riot police watching, ready to move in when they spotted migrants climbing over or cutting their way through the double fence that is lined with barbed wire at the top, bottom and the space in between.

"I don't care if they put a fire there. I'll still get over it," said 28-year-old Darood, who claims he had fled his native Ethiopia after most of his family members were killed. Darood didn't make it through, but said he would keep trying until he finally did get to the country which he and most of the other migrants here see as some sort of El Dorado where their lives will rapidly improve.

Many have made it, and many more are likely to do so as police admit they are simply overwhelmed by the growing numbers of migrants who have recently turned their attention away from Calais ferry port - after security was tightened there - to make their desperate bids at the tunnel terminal.

"It's like trying to swat moles," said Claude Verri of the UNSA police union. "All we can do is take them out of the terminal area and then leave them there. And then five minutes later they can be back inside again."

Exactly how many eventually get to England no-one knows, but UK officials say that they prevented 18,000 stowaways from entering the country between January 1 and May 21 this year.

Some die in their attempt. At least 10 have lost their lives since June alone, through electrocution or after falling off trains or lorries they were trying to clamber on to.

In the latest death, officials said that a migrant had leapt on to a Eurotunnel shuttle train but smashed his head on the platform. There is a cat and mouse game between the police and migrants. Every time a hole in the fence is made, workers fix it. Lines of officers try and push them back towards the "Jungle" - the vast shanty town several miles away.

There was a moment of tension but the confrontation was mostly good-humoured, with one officer's appeal to the migrants to "Come back tomorrow" was met with laughter. "We want to go today," someone shouted back.

"None of us want to live like this. I just want to live in Britain, make a family, take my kids to school," said Abdurahmen, a young Sudanese man. Police said on Thursday that overnight they had "arrested" around 300 people trying to break into the tunnel terminal. But in fact all they do is take migrants who have breached the fence - or tried to - and put them on a bus that at dawn deposits them at a roundabout on the edge of Calais.

From there they head back to the Jungle and rest for the day before planning their next attempt.

The massive migrant presence, combined with wildcat strikes by ferry workers, has this summer crippled Calais and caused travel chaos for holidaymakers and truckers as ferry and train services were repeatedly brought to a halt (© Daily Telegraph London)

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