LONDON • Britain is committing more resources to step up security at Calais after more than 2,000 illegal migrants tried to storm the Channel Tunnel in a bid to reach Britain from France.
In one of the worst security breaches in the history of the undersea link, huge gangs broke through security fencing at the Calais port overnight on Monday and Tuesday, climbing over fences and other barriers in a desperate bid to board freight trains heading into the tunnel, bound for Britain.
One migrant was found dead yesterday, crushed to death by a lorry as he tried to get underneath a train inside the high-security zone surrounding the undersea link, according to the Mail Online.
It is believed the Sudanese man was aged between 25 and 30.
Two migrants were admitted to hospital after being hit by high-speed trains as they tried to enter the tunnel, said the Mail. Seven others almost drowned after falling into a water collection pond near the tunnel entrance.
Estimated migrants camped out around Calais
Migrants arrive in Calais every day
Stowaways caught on trucks or trains bound for Britain between Jan 1 and May 21
Migrants stopped by Channel Tunnel security since the beginning of this year
People who have died since June trying to get to Britain via the Channel Tunnel
SOURCES: REUTERS, EUROTUNNEL, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, TELEGRAPH UK
"Everything happened overnight, and at 6am, the police still had quite a lot of work to do," a British police source said yesterday of the latest attempts, adding that "between 500 and 1,000 migrants" were still around the tunnel site.
The Eurotunnel company revealed frustration with the French authorities, with a spokesman saying: "This is an issue that is really for the government to sort out. We need them to stop the migrant flow from Calais but it appears to be too much for them to handle."
Eurotunnel itself is seeking €9.7 million (S$14.6 million) from the British and French governments in compensation for the disruption caused by illegal migrants.
But London needs cooperation from Paris to continue allowing British officials to carry out border checks on French soil.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, on a visit to Singapore, yesterday said there was no point trying to point fingers of blame. "It's about working with the French, putting in place additional security measures, adding in the investment where that's needed," he said, adding that he had "every sympathy with holidaymakers trying to get to the continent from Britain or people heading the other way".
Britons heading home from Europe have been urged to find an alternative route back. Those who have to travel through the French port have been warned by the authorities to keep their vehicle doors locked because of the "large number of illegal migrants" trying to reach Britain. And Eurostar passenger trains were running at least an hour behind schedule yesterday because of congestion at Calais.
Attempts by migrants to get to Britain through the tunnel have led to nine deaths since June, and caused travel disruption in the European summer holiday season.
The issue has been a thorn in the side of Franco-British relations for many years.
British Home Secretary Theresa May met French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve for crisis talks on Tuesday.
Ms May announced that London would contribute an additional £7 million (S$15 million) to help France secure the Eurotunnel site.
Britain has already spent €4.7 million on barriers aimed at securing access to the terminal and the platforms, which should be ready in August, Eurotunnel said.
Mr Nigel Farage, leader of the right-wing UK Independence Party, has called for the army to check lorries to stop people illegally coming to Britain, said the Mail.
"If in those circumstances we can use the army or other forces then why not," he told LBC radio.
Security at the Calais port was stepped up in mid-June, driving migrants - who previously tried to stow away on trucks that take ferries across the Channel - to try their luck smuggling through the undersea tunnel instead.
An official count early this month showed about 3,000 migrants - mainly from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Afghanistan - camped in Calais, waiting for the right moment to try for a dash for Britain.
The authorities are finding it difficult to police the whole terminal area of the tunnel, which stretches over 650ha and has 28km of fencing. The increased security meant long queues of lorries were already forming at the entrance of the tunnel very early yesterday morning, said a reporter at the scene.
Meanwhile, British holidaymakers have been given an official warning to avoid Calais after militant French workers fired a distress flare at a ferry. Many families travelling with the ferry company DFDS Seaways had their journey to Calais re-routed to Dunkirk on Tuesday, said the Mail.
French farmers have also brought roads to a standstill with a series of protests over falling food prices.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES