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Migrant crisis in Calais

Activists slam France's migrant policy after more police sent to Calais

Migrants next to the Eurotunnel site in Calais, on28 July 2015.
Migrants next to the Eurotunnel site in Calais, on28 July 2015. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN

In Calais, one man died on Wednesday as migrants attempted to storm the Eurotunnel terminal at least 1,500 times. It's the ninth death since the beginning of June. Philippe Wannesson, a local activist and the author of the blog “Passeurs d’hospitalité” gives his analysis of the crisis to RFI.

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1.500 attempts to enter the Eurotunnel were made last night in Calais. These numbers sound incredibly high…

Philippe Wannesson: It does sound incredibly high according to people who are in Calais right now. On the ground we haven't seen an increase in the amount of people attempting to reach England this week compared to previous ones. So we should be cautious when receiving such announcements. Either the numbers were the same last week, or they have been bumped up artificially. There’s a parallel between this announcement, and what media reports claimed after the meeting between French and British Interior ministers on Monday.

So you are saying that these numbers are being given in order to justify the British decision to pledge 10 million euros to step up security near the tunnel?

Yes, there is some kind of media effect that we’ve already seen last Summer. There was a lot of attention on the attempts by migrants to cross the border, by traversing motorways or the port… and in September we had an agreement between France and the UK about the financial participation of the UK towards reinforcing security of the harbor to the tune of 5 million euros.

According to police sources, around 500 and 1000 migrants were still around the terminal this morning. Did they all attempt to enter the tunnel at the same time?

Usually, people go in small groups to try to enter the trucks before they mount the trains, or they try to enter directly inside the trains. So it’s not advised for them to go in big groups. It’s usually groups of 2 to 3 or 8 to10 people, who enter by climbing the security fence of the terminal area. Then they all go to the same place. So there are a number of people around the area where the trucks board the trains. It’s like when there’s a traffic jam on the motorway: thereis always a lot of migrants around the traffic jam.

But people don’t go in groups of hundreds, they go in small groups. It’s not like in some other areas where you have hundreds of people who are coordinating and going for the same target.

You meet on a regular basis with migrants in Calais. Why are they so bent on getting to Britain given the risks they face?

The problem with staying in France, is that the French government has a very unwelcoming policy, especially for unaccompanied minors and asylum seekers. We saw last year the number of asylum seekers decreasing, when at the same time it’s increasing everywhere else in the European Union. There is an efficient dissuasion strategy, so people go elsewhere.

But if you look at the number of people arriving in Italy, and the number of people here in Calais, you’ll see that it’s just a small amount that wants to reach the UK. Usually, it’s people who have relatives, friends, or an organised community there and speak the language.

Just like the idea of an American dream might be driving to cross the Atlantic ocean, do you think some migrants might be drawn to the UK because of the country's economic promise?

No, there’s no dream because these migrants are usually middle class people. They have access to internet; they usually know people who are already there. So they have information about the difficulties there. Most of them are fleeing conflict or dictatorship. They’re just trying to find their place in Europe. Britain is one of the possibilities. However they're under no illusions. Except they see more opportunities in the UK than in France or any other country.

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