LILLE, France (AFP) - Attempts by migrants desperate to reach England through the Channel Tunnel reached a new peak overnight, as about 2,000 migrants tried to enter the Eurotunnel terminal in the French port town of Calais.
“It was the biggest incursion effort in the past month and a half,” said a spokesman for Eurotunnel, which is battling often deadly efforts by migrants to smuggle into Britain.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, on a trip to London to discuss the migration issue, confirmed the figures, telling AFP: “There were some arrests and it all passed off without a fuss.”
By Tuesday evening calm had returned to the Eurotunnel premises, which are usually bustling with hundreds of migrants waiting to seize their chance to cross over.
For several weeks, there have been many attempts by large numbers of migrants to enter the Eurotunnel premises.
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.
The migrants were trying to enter the site “between midnight and 6am,” the Eurotunnel spokesman said.
“All our security personnel, that is nearly 200 people, as well as police were called in,” he added.
The incident caused serious delays to the Eurotunnel service for much of Tuesday, with passengers held up for around an hour on the British side and 30 minutes on the French side.
A French police source said the migrants did not try to force their way all at once, and that the figure of 2,000 related to the total number of incursion attempts – not of migrants.
Up to three migrants were hurt trying to board the trains, he said.
EIGHT DEAD SINCE JUNE
Since the beginning of June, eight migrants have died trying to enter the tunnel.
The port at Calais has been mostly closed since June because of a dispute between ferry staff from France’s MyFerryLink and the Eurotunnel group, which owns the boats.
Many migrants have tried to take advantage of the backed-up traffic to jump onto trucks making their way towards the harbour.
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.
Cazeneuve was in London on Tuesday to hold talks with his counterpart May on how to tackle the migrant issue, which has been a thorn in the side of Franco-British relations for years.
Britain has already spent 4.7 million euros (S$7 million) on erecting barriers aimed at securing access to the terminal and the platforms, which should be ready for use in August, Eurotunnel says.
May said her government would put up an additional seven million pounds (S$14 million) to help France secure the Eurotunnel site on its side of the Channel.
“We’re dealing with terrible criminal gangs,” she said.
“We agreed that we will work together to return migrants, particularly to West Africa, to ensure that people see that making this journey does not mean that they are being able to settle in Europe.”
The Eurotunnel company itself is seeking 9.7 million euros from the British and French governments in compensation for disruption caused by illegal migrants.
Cazeneuve accused the company in a letter Tuesday, the content of which was seen by AFP, 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 two thirds of its security staff since 2002.