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Calais crisis: How militancy and desperation collided to plunge Channel crossing into chaos after migrants took advantage of French workers' strike

By Jamie Merrill

Published 24/06/2015

Migrants who managed to pass the police block on the Eurotunnel site run towards the boarding docks in Coquelles near Calais, northern France, on late July 29, 2015. One man died Wednesday 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. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUENPHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images
Migrants who managed to pass the police block on the Eurotunnel site run towards the boarding docks in Coquelles near Calais, northern France, on late July 29, 2015. One man died Wednesday 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. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUENPHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images
Lorries queued as part of Operation Stack along the north and southbound carriageways of the M20 in Ashford, Kent, following a migrant death in the latest incursion on the Channel Tunnel in Calais. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday July 29, 2015. The death comes as some 1,500 people were successful in breaching the fences at Calais last night, and 2,000 stormed the French terminal the night before. See PA story POLITICS Calais. Photo credit should read: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
French gendarmes try to stop migrants on the Eurotunnel site in Coquelles near Calais, northern France, on late July 29, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUENPHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images
Migrants wait near a Eurotunnel terminal in Coquelles near Calais, northern France, on July 29, 2015. One man died on July 29 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. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUENPHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images
A migrant climbs a security fence of a Eurotunnel terminal in Coquelles near Calais, northern France, on July 30, 2015. One man died on July 29 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. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUENPHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images
Migrants walk in a makeshift camp known as the "Jungle", in Calais, northern France, Wednesday, July 29, 2015. Migrants rushed the tunnel linking France and England repeatedly for a second night on Wednesday and one man was crushed by a truck and died in the chaos, deepening tensions surrounding the thousands of people camped in this northern French port city. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Migrants from Sudan build a hut at a site dubbed "new jungle", where migrants trying to cross the Channel to reach Britain have camped out around the northern French port of Calais, on July 29, 2015. One man died today as migrants made some 1,500 attempts to enter the Eurotunnel terminal in a desperate bid to get to England, a situation the British prime minister warned was "very concerning." AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUENPHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images
Video grab taken from BBC News of migrants by the side of a road in Calais as French ferry workers strike.
Migrants queue for food handouts at the Jungle 2 migrant camp in Calais, France, as the migrant crisis across Europe continues to escalate.
Video grab taken from BBC News of migrants by the side of a road in Calais attempting to board a lorry as French ferry workers strike.
Striking employees of the French company My Ferry Link, a cross-channel ferry service, stand in front of tyres set on fire as they block the access to the Channel Tunnel on June 23, 2015 in Calais, northern France. AFP PHOTO PHILIPPE HUGUENPHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images
Trucks queue up as part of Operation Stack on June 23, 2015 in Dover, England. Ferry workers blockaded the port of Calais in a protest over job cuts earlier on Tuesday. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
French riot police officers take position to drive out protesting French employees (unseen) of the company English Channel passenger and freight ferry company "MyFerryLink", who block the railway tracks of the Eurostar Channel tunnel line, on June 23, 2015 in Calais, northern France. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUENPHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images
People at St Pancras International train station in London, as Eurostar suspended all services due to migrant unrest in Calais.
People hold banners during a demonstration of migrants in Calais, northern France, on World Refugee Day on June 20, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUENPHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images
Migrants camp in squalid conditions on a dusty site dubbed "The Jungle II" in Calais, France, as the migrant crisis across Europe continues to escalate.
Train boards at St Pancras International train station in London, as Eurostar suspended all services due to migrant unrest in Calais.
A group of migrants collect donated food in a squalid camp dubbed "The Jungle II" in Calais, France, as the migrant crisis across Europe continues to escalate.
A striking employee of the French company My Ferry Link, a cross-channel ferry service, sits on a tyre in front of tyres set on fire as he takes part in a blockade of the access to the Channel Tunnel on June 23, 2015 in Calais, northern France. AFP PHOTO PHILIPPE HUGUENPHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images
Migrants sit near the A16 highway as they try to access the Channel Tunnel on June 23, 2015 in Calais, northern France. AFP PHOTO PHILIPPE HUGUENPHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images
A police officer sprays tear gas to migrants trying to access the Channel Tunnel on the A16 highway on June 23, 2015 in Calais, northern France. AFP PHOTO PHILIPPE HUGUENPHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images
Protesting French employees of the company English Channel passenger and freight ferry company "MyFerryLink" block the railway tracks of the Eurostar Channel tunnel line with a blockade of burning tyres and plastic barriers, on June 23, 2015 in Calais, northern France. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUENPHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images
Protesting French employees of the company English Channel passenger and freight ferry company "MyFerryLink" block the railway tracks of the Eurostar Channel tunnel line with a burning plastic barrier, on June 23, 2015 in Calais, northern France. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUENPHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images
Protesting French employees of the company English Channel passenger and freight ferry company "MyFerryLink" block the railway tracks of the Eurostar Channel tunnel line on June 23, 2015 in Calais, northern France. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUENPHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images
French riot police officers take position to drive out protesting French employees (unseen) of the company English Channel passenger and freight ferry company "MyFerryLink", who block the railway tracks of the Eurostar Channel tunnel line, on June 23, 2015 in Calais, northern France. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUENPHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images
French riot police officers (Front) drive out protesting French employees (Rear) of the company English Channel passenger and freight ferry company "MyFerryLink", from the railway tracks of the Eurostar Channel tunnel line, on June 23, 2015 in Calais, northern France. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUENPHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images
Migrants open a lorry in a failed attempt to cross the English Channel, in Calais, northern France, Wednesday, June 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Migrants open a lorry in a failed attempt to cross the English Channel, in Calais, northern France, Wednesday, June 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Migrants wait along a motorway leading to a ferry port to cross the English Channel, in Calais, northern France, Wednesday, June 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Passengers wait to board Eurostar trains at a busy St Pancras International, London, as hundreds of passengers were left stranded on both the English and French sides of the tunnel yesterday as a result of disruption at Calais.

Europe’s migration crisis played out dramatically on the motorways of northern France, as hundreds of desperate migrants attempted to board UK-bound lorries while taking advantage of a wildcat strike by Calais port workers.

The UK’s main transport links to the Continent were left at a standstill throughout the day, after striking MyFerryLink workers blocked the Port of Calais and “broke into” the Channel Tunnel where they started a fire, prompting the cancellation of all passenger and freight services.

A striking employee of the French company My Ferry Link, a cross-channel ferry service, sits on a tyre in front of tyres set on fire as he takes part in a blockade of the access to the Channel Tunnel on June 23, 2015 in Calais, northern France. AFP PHOTO PHILIPPE HUGUENPHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images
A striking employee of the French company My Ferry Link, a cross-channel ferry service, sits on a tyre in front of tyres set on fire as he takes part in a blockade of the access to the Channel Tunnel on June 23, 2015 in Calais, northern France. AFP PHOTO PHILIPPE HUGUENPHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

Eurostar and ferry services are resuming normal service this morning.

Thousands of British tourists were left stranded with Eurostar passenger services suspended, while truckers and drivers using the Eurotunnel vehicle shuttle service were facing hours of delays in getting home after trains finally began running again at around 6.30pm.

This morning, the backlog from the chaos has left hundreds of freight lorries still parked along the M20 motorway as Kent Police confirmed that Operation Stack – which has remained in place overnight – would continue today.

The Foreign Office was forced to issue an unprecedented warning yesterday to drivers in northern France, as hundreds of migrants used the disruption at the French port to attempt to break into the back of gridlocked heavy goods vehicles headed for Britain.

“There are large numbers of illegal migrants in and around Calais, who may seek to enter the UK illegally,” said an official statement.

“Although local police patrols have been reinforced, you should keep vehicle doors locked in slow-moving traffic and secure your vehicle when it is left unattended.”

The warning follows an increase in security on both sides of the Channel.

The chaotic scenes came as a new National Crime Agency report showed the number of migrants caught trying to enter Britain clandestinely had more than doubled last year, with attempts to come to Britain from North Africa rising by 300 per cent.

There was nothing clandestine about the scenes outside Calais, though. Aerial footage showed dozens of migrants trying to board lorries on the A16 motorway, after protesting French ferry workers set fire to tyres and hay bales on the road in the early hours of the morning.

The number of migrants gathered around Calais is thought to have swollen to 3,000 since April, in what aid workers have a called a “catastrophic” situation. Up to 2,000 more from countries including Eritrea, Syria and Afghanistan are expected to arrive over the summer.

Outnumbered riot police drew their batons and threatened migrants with CS spray. They struggled to contain the numbers of people jumping on lorries, which sat stationary in 10-mile-long tailbacks. In pictures: Calais crisis

Trucks queue up as part of Operation Stack on June 23, 2015 in Dover, England. Ferry workers blockaded the port of Calais in a protest over job cuts earlier on Tuesday. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
Trucks queue up as part of Operation Stack on June 23, 2015 in Dover, England. Ferry workers blockaded the port of Calais in a protest over job cuts earlier on Tuesday. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Authorities in Calais have been struggling under the weight of increased migrant numbers. In recent weeks reports of migrants blocking roads have prompted the town’s mayor to call on the French government to provoke a “diplomatic incident” with Britain over the issues. On Monday Natacha Bouchart said that Britain does not give a single “euro” towards helping the town handle the influx.

French aid workers in the town have warned that the problem is coming to a head, and that a sprawling makeshift campsite known locally as the Jungle has become so large that it is no longer safe.

Tensions mounted further as the deputy mayor of Calais blamed the British Government for the number of people trying to board lorries. Philippe Mignonet told the BBC: “We will block the port – as simple as that. We’ll arrange to block the tunnel if nothing is done.”

The Home Office said it was monitoring the situation closely, and was working with French authorities to strengthen law and order in and around Calais. David Cameron’s official spokeswoman said the Prime Minister was in “close touch” with French authorities. Mr Cameron is expected to use an EU summit on Thursday to call for a “comprehensive approach” to illegal immigration.

Donald Armour, the Freight Transport Association’s international affairs manager, warned that hauliers were “really, really worried” that a migrant or lorry driver could be seriously injured.

“There is a lot of fighting between the migrants who all want to be on the best part of the road to get on to the lorries,” he said. “The situation is worse than it has ever been.”

Migrants camp in squalid conditions on a dusty site dubbed
Migrants camp in squalid conditions on a dusty site dubbed "The Jungle II" in Calais, France, as the migrant crisis across Europe continues to escalate.

Duncan, a British lorry driver stranded in Calais who did not want to give his surname, said: “I saw smoke billowing up from the road ahead as tyres and debris was set on fire by the French strikers.

“There were would-be immigrants coming out of the roads and bushes trying to dodge the French riot police and get in our lorries.”

Part of the M20 motorway was forced to close to hold freight traffic on the coast-bound carriageway of the key route to the Continent. Police in Kent said there would probably be continued disruption on the road around Dover throughout Wednesdayday.

The strikers fear the sale of their company to the Danish firm DFDS by its current owner Eurotunnel would result in redundancies.

The ferry operator P&O hit out at the decision by Eurotunnel, which it said had taken place with little or no consultation with MyFerryLink staff. A spokesperson for DFDS said it understood this was a “difficult time for MyFerryLink employees”, but that it hoped the action would “end swiftly”.

Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, Keith Vaz said that the migrant crisis in Calais proved that government efforts to curb illegal migration have not worked. He said: “The migrant crisis is not being solved in Calais by the £12m that the Government has spent so far. Putting a fence around Calais is not the answer.”

Source: Independent

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