One man has died in a desperate attempt to reach England via the Channel Tunnel as overwhelmed authorities fought off hundreds of migrants, prompting France to beef up its police presence.
British ministers on Wednesday convened for emergency talks on the mounting crisis, as Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged the situation in the northern French city of Calais was ‘very concerning.’
The man, thought to be in his late 20s and of Sudanese origin, was apparently crushed by a truck as he tried, with hundreds of others, to smuggle himself into Britain, seen as an ‘El Dorado’ for migrants.
Attempts to penetrate the sprawling Eurotunnel site have spiked in recent days, with migrants trying several times a night to outfox hopelessly outnumbered security officials and police.
Another Sudanese man in his 30s who gave his name as Abraham said: ‘I tried three times tonight but it was very difficult with all the patrols. I know it’s dangerous but I’m trying.’
French authorities said there had been around 2300 attempts to sneak into the Eurotunnel premises overnight Tuesday to Wednesday, revising up a previous figure of 1500.
France’s interior ministry said there have been ‘between 1500 and 2000 attempts per night’ in the past two months.
‘The migrants’ strategy is simple,’ said Bruno Noel from police union Alliance.
‘They arrive as soon as night falls. They lie in wait then sneak onto the premises and hide. As soon as a shuttle train takes off, they try and clamber onto it,’ said Noel.
In what appeared to be a new tactic to get to Britain, an Egyptian tried to jump from the roof of a train at Paris’s Gare du Nord train station onto the London-bound Eurostar and was severely electrocuted.
The migrant killed in Calais on Wednesday was the ninth such death since June and the rising toll is creating tensions between French authorities and Eurotunnel, the firm that runs the passenger and freight service under the Channel.
‘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, the firm stressed in a statement.
Chief Executive Jacques Gounon told French radio that the firm was up against ‘systematic, massive, maybe even organised invasions.’
He said it was more of a bid to gain media attention ‘because, in the end, no one manages to cross the Channel Tunnel.’
Britain’s interior minister Theresa May, however, acknowledged that some migrants had indeed made it to British soil, as a source told AFP that ‘more than 100’ succeeded on Tuesday alone.
‘It was over 100 on a number of trains. It’s an unusually high number, normally it’s a handful or zero,’ the British source told AFP.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced he would send an additional 120 police officers to Calais but stressed that the responsibility must also lie with Eurotunnel.