French police slow migrant bids to cross Channel

French police slow migrant bids to cross Channel
Hundreds of trucks are pictured parked on the southbound and northbound carriageways of the M20 motorway near Ashford in Kent, south-east England, on July 30, 2015, as 'migrant activity' continued to disrupt Europe bound freight traffic Thursday.
PHOTO: AFP

CALAIS, France - Migrants holed up in northern France made fewer attempts to reach England via the Channel Tunnel in the early hours of Thursday, police said, suggesting beefed-up security is having an impact.

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 without violence, said an AFP reporter on the scene.

Some organised a sit-in to try to block shuttles exiting the tunnel.

The crisis in Calais has spiked in intensity in the past few days, with upwards of 2,000 desperate bids 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.

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 launched a sit-in, blocking the passage of shuttles in a vain attempt to get the police to let them pass.

'Send in the army'

The mounting crisis 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 (S$15 million) to help beef up security on the French side of the border.

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?"

British Prime Minister David 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 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," L'Humanite said in an editorial.

"No life deserves to end like this."

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