As port strike racks Calais, migrants use chaos to hop trucks to Britain

The unusually high numbers of migrants attempting to board gridlocked trucks traveling to the UK underscores the growing migration crisis in Europe.

Peter Nicholls/Reuters
Trucks are backed up on the M20 motorway, which leads from London to the Channel Tunnel terminal at Ashford and the Ferry Terminal at Dover, England, today. The Channel Tunnel terminal and ferry port at Calais, France, were both shut after industrial action by workers leading to all cross-Channel travel being stopped.

After a port strike in Calais, France, led to the suspension of services through the Channel Tunnel between Britain and France, hundreds of migrants used the opportunity to try to board UK-bound trucks by breaking into the back of the gridlocked vehicles headed for the Port of Dover.

Striking port workers, who were protesting feared job losses, had shut down normal service of the Channel ferry earlier in the day, forcing traffic to redirect to the Channel Tunnel to cross from France to Britain.

But that in turn caused traffic jams, which migrants tried to take advantage of by jumping into the back of trailer trucks making the journey north. Video filmed near the entrance of the tunnel show several migrants racing to catch a slow-moving truck.

The striking workers later entered the tunnel and reportedly lit tires near its entrance, preventing trains from passing through it. The fires caused two-hour-long delays for Eurotunnel trains, the BBC reported, while the Eurostar train company, which also uses the tunnel, has canceled all trains for the day.

Tuesday’s problems come amidst a worsening migrant situation near the Port of Calais where an estimated 3,000 men, women, and children are living in squalid makeshift camps waiting for a chance to cross into Britain. Aid workers have reported a "catastrophic" situation in Calais, with predictions that around 2,000 more migrants could arrive throughout the summer.

And the population in Calais is just a small portion of the hundreds of thousands of migrants attempting to enter Europe for better economic opportunities and safe haven after being displaced from war-torn and repressive countries such as Eritrea, Syria, and Afghanistan.

The plight of migrants has become a political lightning rod in Europe, pitting southern European countries – such as Spain, Greece, and Italy, which are seeing the highest number of undocumented migrants entering – against northern Europe, which assimilates most asylum seekers, the Monitor reported in September. 

An investigation by the Guardian found that at least 15 migrants died in 2014 while trying to enter Britain. Meanwhile, the British Home Office said that about 19,000 attempts to cross the Channel were prevented in 2015, more than double the number during the same period in 2014.

In Calais, some truck drivers said the intimidation and violence from migrants was so bad that they had begun to avoid the port altogether.

Donald Armour, international manager at the UK Freight Transport Association (FTA), told the BBC that the situation on Tuesday was "definitely worse than it has ever been."

"There is a lot of fighting between the migrants who all want to be on the best part of the road to get on to the lorries," he said. "We haven't had a fatality but it's not good."

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