Crowds of illegal migrants desperate to get to the UK stormed the Eurotunnel’s French terminal near Calais Monday night, causing traffic delays and disrupting rail services. The incident prompted UK authorities to re-introduce emergency measures.
About 2000 migrants tried to breach the fences of the Calais terminal on Monday night into Tuesday in a bid to reach the UK, according to a Eurotunnel spokesman, who described the situation as “the biggest incursion effort in the past month and a half.”
“Some 2,100 of them entered the site overnight, 1,900 of them were quickly pushed back outside and 200 were arrested,” the local official told Reuters.
A French police source described the scenes as “absolute pandemonium.”
“They were pouring in through holes in the fencing and clinging onto Eurotunnel trains. About fifteen migrants suffered injuries, and were treated by paramedics before the entire site was cleared by around 6 am on Tuesday,” a spokesman from the French police said.
About nine migrants were taken to hospitals following the event. Two migrants were hit by a train and about seven more, including a 14-year old, were rescued from drowning after they fell into a water collection basin near the entrance to the tunnel.
“Many of these people [migrants] are coming from countries where English is widely spoken as a second language, so it is understandable they want to get to the United Kingdom,” said Keith Best, the former vice chair of the European Council for refugees, explaining why so many migrants were trying to cross the Channel, in an interview with RT.
On Tuesday morning, Eurotunnel advised anyone travelling through the “chunnel” in either direction via its services to “postpone their journey” due to long delays as a result of “migrant activity throughout the night.” A Eurotunnel spokesman said that though migrants had caused some damage to fences, the trains remained intact.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) also warned people travelling through Calais to “keep vehicle doors locked” due to the “large numbers of illegal migrants” and a “high threat of terrorism.”
In order to avoid gridlock on Kent county roads, UK authorities also re-introduced a set of emergency measures due to heavy traffic and “continued disruption in Calais,” police said.
Eurotunnel officials said the storming of the Calais terminal by migrants was “an almost nightly occurrence,” and demanded compensation from the British and French governments for disruptions resulting from the migrants’ activities.
On Tuesday, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve held talks on the migrant issue with UK Home Secretary Theresa May in London.
After the meeting, Theresa May said that “the French and UK governments are working in close collaboration and cooperation on this issue which affects us both.”
“We have juxtaposed controls at the border. We work together on dealing with this particular problem,” she added, answering a question as to why Britons should pay for the problems on the French side.
Philip Gomm, Head of external communications of the London-based Royal Automobile Club Foundation, also called on authorities to take measures to resolve the problem, saying, “The TV pictures of queues in Kent might suggest this is a little local difficulty, but it has become a problem which is impacting the UK supply chain and is affecting the travel decisions of people hundreds of miles away from south-east England.”
“Matters need to be treated with the urgency they deserve,” he added, as quoted by the Guardian.
In commenting on the measures that the British and French governments had taken to deal with the migrant crisis, Keith Best told RT that the French had recently made changes to their immigration laws that reduced the period of consideration for asylum requests from two years to nine months.
“We have to wait and see if this measure is actually translated into reality or not,” he said.
According to different estimates, between 5,000 and 10,000 migrants are currently living in camps near the French port of Calais with the aim of getting to the UK. The migrant crisis has escalated recently as the ever growing number of migrants has been causing significant transport disruptions and delays in Eurotunnel services.
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