At Britain's door, migrants defy French border crackdown

Tue Sep 9, 2014 1:50pm EDT
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By Nicholas Vinocur

CALAIS France (Reuters) - It took Eritrean migrant Adhanom Ghabrai two years and several brushes with death to reach northern France from his east African home. Now 35 km from his destination, he says no border controls can stop him from reaching Britain.

"England is my goal," Ghabrai, 28, said outside his makeshift tent near the French port city of Calais. "The question is not 'if' I succeed but 'when'," he said in English, adding he had tried "at least 40 times" since May.

French officials estimate the number of illegal immigrants in Calais at 1,500, up by 50 percent in the past year, their numbers boosted by conflict in the Middle East and north Africa.

They are the latest manifestation of Europe's struggle to deal with the influx of the world's poor into a region they see as a haven in which to build a better life.

The fact that Britain is not one of the 26 European Union members who have abolished controls at their common borders has long made Calais one of the flashpoints in that struggle.

In Britain, the latest build-up of illegal immigrants in Calais has fueled anti-European Union sentiment. In France, Marine Le Pen's anti-immigration National Front party, which won around 14 percent of the Calais vote in town hall elections in March, says it is seeing local support rise.

To reach Calais, Ghabrai, a former soldier, fled an army camp, crossed the Sahara and sailed across the Mediterranean Sea from Libya in an overcrowded ship full of migrants to the Italian island of Sicily. Ghabrai did not give precise details of his subsequent journey but said he made it to Calais by stowing away on trains and seeking help from fellow migrants.

Like hundreds of other east Africans, he benefited from porous borders in unstable Libya and a European Court of Human Rights ruling against the practice of forcing ships loaded with migrants back to the countries from where they came.   Continued...