Loading articles...

Britain, France try to choke off undersea route for migrants, crack down on economic migration

Last Updated Aug 20, 2015 at 9:40 am PDT

French Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve , right, and Britain Home Secretary Theresa May visit Eurotunnel's command and control centre, Thursday Aug. 20, 2015 in Calais, northern France. Britain and France are fortifying security around the Channel Tunnel and boosting intelligence efforts against traffickers as they try to dissuade thousands of migrants from trying to make the illegal _ and sometimes deadly _ undersea journey to British shores. (Philippe Huguen, Pool via AP)

CALAIS, France – Britain and France on Thursday announced tougher security tools to guard the Channel Tunnel, a new joint police command to target human traffickers and 10 million euros ($11.2 million) in new British government money to help asylum seekers — and send others back home.

The measures are aimed at overcoming diplomatic tensions around the French port of Calais, a flashpoint in a European summer marked by unusually large waves of migrants. The moves focus more on policing than humanitarian efforts.

British Home Secretary Theresa May and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve visited the tunnel Thursday announced plans for a “substantial” increase of security guards, higher fences, surveillance cameras, floodlighting and infrared detection technology.

Since the start of June, at least 10 migrants have died trying to sneak through the Channel Tunnel to Britain, and countless others have slipped through undetected. Britain and France have accused each other of not doing enough to manage the migrants.

An estimated 3,000 migrants are camped in unsanitary, hungry conditions in Calais with more arriving and leaving daily, drawing intense political attention in Britain. Elsewhere in Europe this year, Germany has seen 360,000 migrants arrive and 160,000 migrants have reached Greek shores.

May insisted on the importance of distinguishing between refugees fleeing war or persecution and migrants coming illegally to seek better economic prospects.

“It’s a problem that starts elsewhere in the world with migrants trying to come abroad with organized criminal gangs,” she said Thursday.

Britain will increase monitoring of other North Sea ports as the crackdown on Calais pushes migrants to other potential departure points, she said.

The two countries announced a new joint police command centre to co-ordinate intelligence to disrupt migrant-trafficking gangs.

The overall cost of the measures was not disclosed. But a joint statement said Britain would provide an additional 5 million euros a year for the next two years for identifying and protecting the most vulnerable migrants, particularly women and children — and on sending economic migrants home.

British border guards will meet with migrants to provide “a more dissuasive and realistic sense of life for illegal migrants in the U.K.,” the declaration said.

Cazeneuve said French authorities have dismantled 19 trafficking networks this year.

There are now about 400 surveillance cameras, 200 French guards and 500 other French security forces surrounding the area near the tunnel entrance, British officials said.

Britain has financed four-meter-high (13-feet) border fences that Eurotunnel spokesman Romain Dufour says have reduced migrant storming considerably.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, on Thursday praised the new measures helping migrants in Calais and targeting traffickers, and urged more “legal avenues for people in need of protection to come to Europe,” particularly from war zones.

Migrants in Calais, however, met Thursday’s announcements with skepticism, noting that as long as they hear of success stories in Britain, they will continue to risk the journey. Some staged a protest on a highway near a migrant camp, while others continued trying to sneak onto trucks travelling across the channel.

Syrian migrant Kamil, speaking Thursday from a Calais camp, said the British investment in security “is a waste of money.”

“Even if they put fences in the water, they’re not stopping us,” said Kamil, who spoke on condition that only his first name be used out of fear of being arrested.

He was joined by two Syrian friends who said they would walk two hours to the tunnel and try again.

Turning away, he said, “I’ll call when I make it to England.”


Charlton reported from Paris. Elaine Ganley in Paris and Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.