LONDON/PARIS (Reuters) - A Sudanese man died on Wednesday as migrants desperate to enter Britain from France stormed the channel tunnel entrance, prompting governments in both countries to promise to beef up security there.
Freight and passenger traffic through the rail tunnel has been severely disrupted as migrants camped out in shanty towns in the Calais area have repeatedly tried to board trucks and trains traveling from France to Britain.
France said it was sending 120 more police officers to the site while Britain said it was pressing ahead with erecting a nine-foot (three-meter) fence to protect the terminal.
“One of the things we’re doing is pressing to ensure we can get the security fencing up as quickly as possible to reduce this problem,” British Home Secretary Theresa May said.
The situation has turned into a blame game with Eurotunnel asking French and British governments to reimburse it for the 10 million euros ($11 million) it has spent to increase security to cope with the latest migrant crisis at Calais.
The scale of the crisis has been highlighted by the sight of migrants lining roads and scrambling to jump into moving vehicles in recent weeks. Rocks have been thrown at trucks and migrants have in some cases clashed with drivers and police.
Nigel Farage, leader of Britain’s anti-EU UKIP party, said he was surprised no lorry drivers or tourists had been killed.
“I‘m amazed that the French authorities have not done more. Whenever I‘m there they appear to be standing by and watching what’s going on,” he told BBC radio.
The man who died on Wednesday was probably hit by a truck leaving one of the shuttles that transport vehicles through the tunnel, French police said. French media said he was the ninth migrant to be killed in the crisis since early June.
There were about 1,500 attempts by migrants to enter the tunnel on Tuesday night, a Eurotunnel spokesman said, after 2,000 attempts the previous night. Some were probably repeat attempts by the same people.
For the thousands of migrants fleeing war, upheaval and poverty and now camped in shanties around the port of Calais known as the “jungle”, the aim is a better life in Britain.
Many will seek illegal employment in Britain’s shadow economy or claim asylum in a system often seen as more generous than the French equivalent. They also know that Britain has no national identity cards.
Such hopes are encouraged by traffickers who squeeze money out of migrants on their arduous journeys from the war zones of the Middle East and from Africa.
A 30-year-old Syrian man, who is seeking asylum in London, told how he was tortured in prison before he fled, leaving behind his wife and child as he embarked on a journey that would take him six months and nearly cost him his life.
He made it across the Mediterranean on his fifth attempt - spending the last two hours swimming ashore. Of the 32 people on his boat only eight survived, he said.
“After like one hour, an hour and a half, I start feeling like I will die, I will go under the water,” he told Reuters.
“But what I start to see in my mind is that my family are on the other side, clapping and telling me come on you will reach us,” he said.
In a July 23 letter sent by French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve to Eurotunnel boss Jacques Gounon and seen by Reuters, Cazeneuve accused Eurotunnel of not doing enough to ensure Tunnel security “given the worsening situation”.
Eurotunnel had notably cut to 103 from 325 in 2002 the number of security staff at the site, he said.
Eurotunnel said it had in fact doubled its security staff to close to 200 people since the start of the migrant crisis in the early 2000s and had spent more than 160 million euros on security during that time.
It said the pressure on the terminal every night was more than it could reasonably handle and Britain and France should act.
Britain has agreed up to 7 million pounds ($11 million) of extra funding to help increase security at the tunnel’s French terminal at Coquelles, officials said.
British authorities said they had agreed with the French to work together on returning the migrants to their countries of origin, particularly in West Africa, although no details were given about how this would work.
The crisis at Calais has had a knock-on effect on road traffic on the British side and caused huge delays for freight trucks as well as holidaymakers trying to reach the continent. Hundreds of lorries are parked along the motorway leading to the port of Dover and the British tunnel terminal in what police have called “Operation Stack”.
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Reporting by Estelle Shirbon in London, Pierre Savary in Lille, Dominique Vidalon in Paris and Rujun Shen in Singapore; editing by John Stonestreet and Giles Elgood