One dead as 1,500 migrants try to storm Eurotunnel terminal again: French police

Migrants who successfully crossed the Eurotunnel terminal walk on the side of the railroad as they try to reach a shuttle to Great Britain, on July 28, 2015 in Frethun, northern France.
Migrants who successfully crossed the Eurotunnel terminal walk on the side of the railroad as they try to reach a shuttle to Great Britain, on July 28, 2015 in Frethun, northern France.PHOTO: AFP

CALAIS, France (AFP) - One man died Wednesday as migrants made some 1,500 attempts to enter the Eurotunnel terminal in a desperate bid to get to England, a situation the British prime minister warned was “very concerning.

Authorities in London were planning emergency talks over the migrant crisis, which has now claimed nine lives since June and sparked major travel disruption in a peak European holiday season.  

“Our team found a corpse this morning and the firefighters have confirmed the death of this person,” said a Eurotunnel spokesman.  

The migrant, a man of Sudanese origin believed to be aged between 25 and 30, was hit by a truck that was leaving a cross-Channel ferry, the police source said.  

“Everything happened overnight, and at 6am (0400 GMT), the police still had quite a lot of work to do,” said the police source of the latest attempts, adding that “between 500 and 1,000 migrants” were still around the tunnel site.  

The overnight attempts at storming the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais, northern France, came after some 2,000 bids to enter the site were recorded the night before, in what was described as the “biggest incursion effort in the past month and a half”.  

For several weeks, there have been many attempts by migrants to enter the Eurotunnel premises, with the number of people trying growing significantly in recent days.  

Eurotunnel said in a statement that “using its own resources, it had blocked 37,000 migrants trying to make the journey since the beginning of the year and issued a plea for help.  

“The pressure we are now under every night exceeds that which an operator can reasonably handle, and calls for an appropriate reaction from the states” of France and Britain, Eurotunnel said in a statement.  

Security at the Calais port was stepped up in mid-June, forcing migrants who previously tried to stow away on trucks that take ferries across the Channel to try their luck smuggling through the undersea tunnel. Authorities are finding it difficult to police the whole terminal area, which stretches over 650ha and has 28km of fencing.  

According to the last official count in early July, around 3,000 migrants, mainly from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Afghanistan, were camped out in Calais, waiting for the right moment to try to make a dash for Britain.  

Long queues of lorries were already beginning to form at the entrance of the tunnel very early Wednesday morning.  

Eurotunnel warned on Twitter it was operating with a “disrupted timetable” due to “migrant activity overnight”.

“Travelling from France, access to our passenger terminal is congested by lorries. Don’t queue up with trucks,” the firm warned.

Speaking in Singapore, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that Home Secretary Theresa May would chair a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee to discuss the issue.  

“This is very concerning,” he told reporters. “We are working very closely” with French authorities to address the situation.  

“I have every sympathy with holidaymakers” trying to get to the continent from Britain or people heading the other way, said Cameron.  

The issue has been a thorn in the side of Franco-British relations for years and May met her counterpart, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, for talks on the crisis on Tuesday.  May announced that London would pay out an additional seven million pounds (S$14.9 million) to help France secure the Eurotunnel site on its side of the Channel.  

Britain has already spent 4.7 million euros (S$7.1 million) on erecting barriers aimed at securing access to the terminal and the platforms, which should be ready for use in August, Eurotunnel says.  

The Eurotunnel company itself is seeking 9.7 million euros from the British and French governments in compensation for disruption caused by the migrants.  But in a letter seen by AFP, Cazeneuve accused the company of not taking the necessary security measures.  

“First of all I would like you to ask yourself about the human resources you are planning on dedicating to secure the site,” Cazeneuve said in the letter, noting that the company has slashed its security staff by two-thirds since 2002.