French police slow desperate migrant bids to cross Channel

30th July 2015, Comments 0 comments

Hundreds of migrants holed up in northern France made another desperate attempt to reach England in the early hours of Thursday, as Britain's prime minister came under fire for controversial comments on the crisis.

France has bolstered its police presence in the northern port city of Calais and migrants made fewer attempts to enter the Eurotunnel than in previous nights.

Police counted several hundred bids to enter the premises of the Eurotunnel terminal in the French port city of Calais, down significantly from the roughly 2,300 attempts registered the night before.

Authorities arrested around 300 of the roughly 800-1,000 migrants estimated to be present at the site overnight.

Eurotunnel did not give precise figures but acknowledged it had been quieter than previous nights.

Traffic through the tunnel, which had been severely disrupted the previous day, was barely affected.

Early Thursday, there were no reported delays on either side of the Channel Tunnel on what is expected to be a busy day in peak European holiday season.

Police intercepted the vast majority of the few hundred migrants who did attempt to penetrate the Eurotunnel premises.

An AFP reporter in Calais watched as dozens of migrants charged past outnumbered police.

Some made it over a barbed wire fence and disappeared into the darkness. But most failed and instead held a sit-in, blocking the passage of shuttles in a vain attempt to get the police to let them pass.

The crisis in Calais has spiked in intensity in the past few days, with upwards of 2,000 desperate bids nightly to sneak into the tunnel to get to Britain -- seen as an "Eldorado" for migrants.

One man died early Wednesday, apparently crushed by a lorry as he tried to make it into the tunnel.

Another migrant, who had suffered head injuries at the weekend, died earlier in the week, authorities announced on Thursday, bringing to 10 the total number of deaths since June.

A teenage Egyptian boy was also fighting for his life after being electrocuted after jumping onto the roof of a Eurostar train bound for London at Paris's central Gare du Nord station, a police source said.

- 'Send in the army' -

The mounting crisis has sparked concern in France and Britain, with both governments announcing emergency measures.

France's interior minister sent 120 additional police officers to the scene on a temporary basis, while London said it would provide an extra seven million pounds (9.8 million euros) to help beef up security on the French side.

The crisis has become a hot political issue on both sides of the Channel and Prime Minister David Cameron came under pressure for describing the people trying to get into Britain as a "swarm".

This earned him criticism from acting opposition Labour Party leader Harriet Harman who said Cameron should "remember he is talking about people, not insects."

The Refugee Council, a leading charity which works with asylum seekers, said it was "awful, dehumanising language from a world leader".

Meanwhile, Britain's tabloid media took great pleasure Thursday in lashing out at two of their favourite targets: government immigration policy and the French.

Many called for the British army to be sent to France to stop migrants trying to cross the Channel.

"Send In The Army," the right-wing Daily Mail splashed on its front page.

Over five pages of coverage, its articles included one opinion piece headlined: "We kept out Hitler. Why can't our feeble leaders stop a few thousand exhausted migrants?"

Cameron said Wednesday that the "finger of blame" should not be pointed at anyone for the crisis, which has nonetheless proved to be a test for the traditionally strong cross-channel relationship.

But mass circulation British daily the Sun had no such qualms, laying the blame squarely at the door of French authorities.

"France's heart is not in it. Their cops are overwhelmed and, besides, they'd rather pass the buck to us," it added. "The anarchy at Calais is a weeping sore on the face of Europe."

The French press tended to focus more on the human side of the tragedy.

"They fled war, massacres and oppression. They die on a train platform or next to a motorway if they manage to avoid drowning in the Mediterranean," left-wing L'Humanite said in an editorial.

"No life deserves to end like this."

© 2015 AFP

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