Calais migrants face ‘catastrophe’

Published: Thursday 18th June 2015 by The News Editor

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The plight of migrants massed in their thousands in Calais has reached “catastrophic” levels, aid workers said, amid renewed calls for Britain to help ease the burden on France.

Not enough tents, blankets and food are available for migrants who are camped in squalid conditions on a dusty site dubbed “The Jungle II” in the French port town, it is said.

Increasingly desperate attempts are being made by those displaced from war-torn countries, including Eritrea, Syria and Afghanistan, to reach countries such as Britain.

Numbers of migrants in Calais have swelled from around 1,000 since April to more than 3,000, with predictions more than 2,000 more will arrive over the summer, aid workers said.

Such growth in migrant numbers has led to outbreaks of violence among their number and towards truckers, forcing some hauliers to avoid Calais altogether.

Yesterday, an armed mob brought a motorway near the port to a standstill and attacked trucks, after bringing debris into the road to slow approaching hauliers.

Today, on a calmer day in Calais, French aid workers said the situation had reached crisis point and called for European countries, including the UK, to take some of the migrants.

At a food handout point near the port, volunteer Maya Konforti, 60, of l’Auberge des Migrants, said: “The situation is catastrophic. They don’t have enough tents, blankets or food and with Ramadan it’s more difficult.

“We distribute what food we have but it’s never enough. It’s escalated. It started about six weeks ago and has been more and more hectic.

“We have between 30 and 50 new arrivals every day. When this camp opened on April 1, there were 1,000 people in Calais, now there are around 3,000.

“We expect another 2,000 over the summer. The solution is to do something to open the borders. People need freedom to choose where they want to settle.

“If you give people the choice of where to settle, it would probably be quite even. Not everybody wants to go to England.”

She added: “Every country in Europe needs to take some of these people and things will be fine. 200,000 arrivals in Europe is actually a small number when you consider Europe has 500 million people.

“It’s not something to freak out about. It’s not an invasion.”

Amid the ramshackle buildings and tents in “the Jungle II” were migrants with stories of how they fled terror on land and over perilous seas by paying people smugglers to reach Europe.

Among them was 25-year-old Eritrean Yohannes Woldesillasie who in the space of five months crossed from his homeland into Sudan, then Libya and Italy before reaching France.

He said: “There were plenty of times when I almost lost my life. I saw it happen many times in front of me. I want to go to the UK for education. I need education.

“If I were to go to Germany or France it’s going to be difficult but in England I think I can do it.” Another migrant, Syed, 26, from Afghanistan, said: “Getting to the UK is my dream.

“My life would be better there. I don’t want to go anywhere else. I have always loved England. I love the history and the football. I would be so happy there.”

British trucker Tommy Harrison said the migrant issue in Calais reached crisis point two years ago. Now he takes long detours via Zeebrugge to avoid Calais altogether.

He said: “Drivers are being stabbed. I had a friend who suffered a cracked rib and broken eye socket as a result of being attacked.

“The problem is, if migrants are in the back, you can’t really do anything. You’ve got two choices – get them out on your own, and there could be 30 of them, or take them to the border and let the police deal with them.

“But then drivers could face a fine of about £2,900 per person for having migrants in their vehicles. You can’t win. You either face violence or face losing your home.”

Mr Harrison spoke of an escalation in the violence used by migrants and bolder tactics in their attempts to stow-away in vehicles. He said: “Before, they would be timid. You’d say, ‘Get out’ and they would.

“But now they are trying to board trucks during the day and are kicking off. It’s quite intimidating, particularly when you’re faced with 10 to 15 of them.

“On Monday, they created their own roadblock, so truckers had to stop, then suddenly they found themselves surrounded by 150 migrants.”

For many British hauliers, who are older and saddled with mortgages and families to look after, they feel they have no choice but to carry on despite the risks, he said.

“I’m young enough that I could switch jobs if I wanted,” Mr Harrison said. “But for most who are from the older generation, with mortgages and families, they can’t afford to change.”

The Fresh Produce Consortium estimates that some £10 million of fresh fruit and vegetables have been thrown away since the start of the year as a result of the problems.

Its chief executive Nigel Jenney said: “The key point is not whether the figure is eight or 12 million, my concern is that 12 months ago such occurrences were rare, six months ago they were rising and now it’s happening regularly.”

He said the consortium – which has around 700 business members – has taken steps, including drafting guidance and meeting ministers, but more needs to be done.

“That’s all great but we need urgent and fast action because the current situation is not sustainable,” he said. “I don’t think it’s about apportioning blame, but about apportioning responsibility to tackling the situation.”

European home affairs ministers met in Luxembourg this week to try to hammer out a joint strategy for dealing with the flow of people crossing the Mediterranean, with many ending up camped in Calais.

Save The Children has urged the Government to take in a “fair share” of youngsters who make the crossing to Europe and increase the number of families fleeing Syria that are offered sanctuary in the UK.

The charity said that more than 5,000 children, many of them travelling without their parents, were among the 54,000 people who have landed in Italy so far this year.

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) has written to Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart calling for her to support in lobbying the French and British governments and the EU Commission.

And Port of Dover officials have called for hauliers to be protected, with its chief executive Tim Waggott saying they were “vital to keeping the UK and Europe moving”.

Trade on the routes from Dover to French ports has grown by 20% in the past two years, and Mr Waggott said this sign of economic recovery must not be jeopardised.

Published: Thursday 18th June 2015 by The News Editor

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