This summer, Calais and Eurotunnel have been under a less than favourable light as migrants continue their attempt to come to England. As of July 29th, there have been up to 1,500 attempts daily to cross the Channel tunnel by migrants, resulting in 9 deaths since June this year. UK Foreign secretary Philip Hammond is aware of the situation and has been keeping an eye on some 3,000 refugees and “marauding” (his word) migrants who have gathered at the French port town of Calais.
While this situation is not exactly news, it is becoming more and more intolerable on both side of the Channel. As Hammond has said at a press conference in South Korea, “because they are moving en masse in numbers, they can pose a threat to the security of the Channel Tunnel.”
Moreover, companies that depend on Eurotunnel such as My Ferry Link had to face protests from their employees following the announcement that about 400 jobs might be at stake after SeaFrance filed for bankruptcy. This social unrest puts even more pressure in a region of France that has already its hands full with the migrant problem.
Who are the migrants?
Most of them come from African countries such as Sudan – the country of origin of the latest victim of the Calais crisis. PM David Cameron’s words were harsh, referring to them as
[…] swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs.
While it is difficult to know precisely the reasons for the migrant’s emigration to Britain, economic factors play a major role. It is very difficult to know why people are coming into the UK in particular, but factors such as language, family connections and job opportunities do play a large role. It has been pointed out by newspaper that UK’s benefit system and asylum seeker’s policies are not the best in Europe, and therefore might not be the real motive of immigration there.
However while it is true that the Calais crisis affects the UK in particular, most of Europe has to deal with illegal immigration of the same kind, especially Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Greece (180,000 migrants this year alone arrived on the shore of Italy and Greece.)
What are the authorities doing about this crisis?
Operation Stack has taken place very early, turning the M20 into a lorry parking lot. This emergency measure is used to control merchandise vehicles for illegal immigrants and has already been used in the past several years. More recently, Philip Hammond has announced in August 2015 that UK unlocked funds to get an extra 100 Channel tunnel guards to control the flux of migrants, resulting in a small force of 300 people.
Police and crime commissioner Kevin Hurley (Surrey) has suggested using the Gurkhas to reinforce security at the border, but this measure seems unlikely to happen in the near future.
French authorities have mobilised police and gendarmerie services to help Eurotunnel manage this crisis.
What is the impact of the crisis?
The main problem is an economic one. French businesses at Calais have seen their British customers go to other, more hospitable towns. On the other side of the Channel, Operation Stack takes its toll on businesses as cities along the M20 see their customers going elsewhere as well, resulting in a direct loss of profit.
Indirectly, the migrant problem is also hurting the reputation of Eurotunnel as nationalistic voices in each country demands that their respective governments close the border, and therefore of the Channel tunnel.
On a broader scale, the Calais crisis hurts British-French relations, as people from both countries mistrust and accuse the other of doing nothing to help.