CALAIS, France (AP) — Migrants rushed the tunnel linking France and England repeatedly for a second night on Wednesday and one man was crushed to death by a truck in the chaos, deepening tensions surrounding the thousands of people camped in this northern French port city.
To get to the tunnel, migrants must cross a busy highway, scale or cut through barricades and fences, and pry open cargo doors or crouch in the freight cars that cradle the tractor-trailers. It’s not clear how many have successfully made the 35-minute journey to Britain, but Eurotunnel said it had blocked more than 37,000 attempts since January. Nine people have died trying since June.
There were wildly conflicting totals of people involved Wednesday, ranging from 150 to as many as 1,200. But French authorities and the company agreed there had been about 2,000 attempts on each of two successive nights. British Home Secretary Theresa May said “a number” of migrants made it through overnight.
Attempts have been increasing exponentially as has the sense of crisis in recent weeks, spurred by new barriers around the Eurotunnel site, lack of access to the Calais port, labor strife that turned the rails into protest sites for striking workers, and an influx of desperate migrants.
Many British officials are alarmed at what they see as a potential influx of foreigners, while French officials are concerned about the makeshift Calais tent camps derisively called “the Jungle.”
“This exceptional migrant situation has dramatic human consequences,” said French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve. “Calais is a mirror of conflicts tearing up regions of the world.”
About 25 migrants were seen getting off a public bus in Calais on Wednesday with a police officer who left them by the side of the road. Several said they were returning from a night of trying to cross the Channel.
“(We) come from train here and tomorrow, inshallah, try again in the train,” said an Eritrean who would not give his name as he planned further attempts to reach England.
The man killed overnight, believed to be a Sudanese man in his mid-20s, was crushed by a truck as he tried to stow away, Gilles Debove, a police union official told The Associated Press.
The delays were causing mayhem for truckers on both sides of the Channel. Cargo trucks were backed up overnight in Calais for several kilometers (miles) leading to the loading zone, some of them stuck on a highway overpass above one of the many makeshift migrant camps. British police, meanwhile, turned parts of a highway near the British end of the tunnel into a giant parking lot. Passenger service was also delayed.
The company called for help from both the French and British governments.
“It’s become a phenomenon which is beyond our means,” said spokesman John Keefe. “We’re just a small transport company operating in a little corner of Europe.”
Keefe said attacks on the fences are organized. “This is very clearly criminal gangs or human traffickers who coordinate attacks on the fences,” he said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking during his visit to Singapore, described the crisis as “very concerning,” but that there was no point in “pointing fingers of blame.” Other British officials blamed the government in France, where officials said Eurotunnel also needed to do more.
The British government has agreed to an extra 7 million pounds ($11 million) of funding for measures to improve security at Calais.
The Conservative Party lawmaker for Folkestone in southern England, Damian Collins, said French authorities needed to better secure their side. Cazeneuve said 120 government security forces were being dispatched immediately to Calais.
“They have allowed people willingly to break into the Channel Tunnel site. I can’t believe they would be that lax in protecting an airport or another sensitive facility,” Collins said. “But that has happened constantly throughout the summer.”
The tunnel is studded with high-tech equipment to detect migrants, who increasingly have headed to the trains as the Calais port also increases security. Philippe Wannesson, who runs an association in support of the migrants, questioned whether the attempts were organized, saying the varying nationalities make that unlikely.
Migrants have continued to press northward, fleeing war, dictatorship and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.
Newcomers tend to spend as little time as possible in their southern European landing spots, like Italy where two ships unloaded on Wednesday, one carrying 435 passengers and 14 bodies and another with 692 migrants.
Many of those disembarking Wednesday were families, said Giovanna De Benedetto, spokeswoman for Save the Children in the port of Messina. “Most of them (are) Syrians, who are traveling with their families so they have escaped from four years of conflict, children who simply want to play, to have a future, a dignified life in Europe as millions of children their age have.”
May, the home secretary, said Britain was pressing for a bigger fence around the Calais railhead to stop people reaching the French end of the tunnel. She said Britain and France would work together to return people to their home countries and crack down on smugglers.
Ultimately, May added, “the answer to this problem is to ensure we are reducing the number of migrants who are trying to come from Africa across into Europe, that we break that link between making that dangerous journey, as it often is for people, and coming to settle in Europe.”
Lori Hinnant and Maggy Donaldson in Paris; Chris Den Hond in Calais; Danica Kirka and Jill Lawless in London; and Patricia Thomas in Messina, Italy, contributed.
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