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Migrants Have Made 3,500 Attempts to Enter the Channel Tunnel Over Two Nights

One man was crushed by a truck on Tuesday night, as 1,500 attempts were made by hundreds of migrants to enter the tunnel between the UK and France. Nine migrants have died in similar attempts since June.

by VICE News
Jul 29 2015, 12:30pm

Imagen por Etienne Laurent/EPA

VICE News is closely watching the international migrant crisis. Check out the Open Water blog here.

A man has died as migrants made 1,500 attempts to enter the UK through the Channel Tunnel during another night of chaos in Calais, France. Authorities say one migrant was crushed to death by a truck as a group of at least 150 migrants made repeated attempts to get into the tunnel throughout the night.

This comes after Eurotunnel — the French company that manages the link — confirmed to VICE News that 2,000 attempts to enter were made on Monday night, but involved less than 400 people in all. 

On Wednesday, however, there were conflicting reports of the number of people involved on Tuesday night, ranging from 150 to as many as 1,200.

An anonymous official in Calais said that 2,100 migrants tried to storm the area surrounding the Eurotunnel early on Tuesday before being repelled by police. She said it was the largest such attempt by migrants to enter the site and that authorities then arrested 200 people.

In total more than 37,000 attempts by migrants to reach the UK have been blocked since January 1, according to Eurotunnel, which last week asked the British and French governments to kick in 9.7 million euros ($10.5 million) to help pay for beefed-up security measures.

Nine migrants have died in attempts to get into the tunnel since June, said French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve. Speaking at a press conference Wednesday, Cazeneuve said that an additional 120 police and riot cops were being dispatched to Calais to secure the area around the tunnel. The minister also urged Eurotunnel to "shoulder its responsibilities" and increase its own security staff at the site.

The man who died overnight, believed to be a Sudanese man in his mid-20s, was killed as he tried to stow away, according Gilles Debove, a police union official. A Eurotunnel spokesperson told VICE News that police have opened an investigation, saying the young man was "seemingly run over by the truck from which he fell."

French daily Le Parisien has also reported that an Egyptian man was electrocuted Wednesday afternoon, as he was trying to climb onto the roof of a Eurostar train stationed in the Gare du Nord, in Paris. The critically injured man was taken to the nearby Saint-Louis hospital, and may have died from his injuries, according to an unconfirmed report from French radio RTL.

"This is an intrusion peak that has never been recorded before," a Eurotunnel spokesman told VICE News on Wednesday. "They [the migrants] manage to get inside the site by climbing over the fences and by cutting our wire fences," he added.

Eurotunnel spokesman John Keefe told the Associated Press that the attacks on the fences are organized. "This is very clearly criminal gangs or human traffickers who coordinate attacks on the fences," he said.

Thousands of migrants are camped in Calais, and their attempts to reach the UK have intensified with recent labor strife in the port city. Eurotunnel also warned that its timetable had been disrupted because of "migrant activity." 

On Wednesday, Natacha Bouchart, mayor of Calais, told France Info radio that migrants are trying to reach England from France "at all costs" — first crossing a busy highway and then trying to stow away on trucks in line to board the train. 

She said Britain, France, and Eurotunnel need to work together on the issue.

Related: 1,800 Migrants Were Rescued From the Mediterranean Yesterday — Along With 14 Bodies

"The situation was already really hard, but now it's a tragedy," Vincent De Coninck, in charge of the Nord-Pas de Calais operations for the Secours Catholic NGO, told VICE News.

De Coninck has been helping migrants in Calais for several years and, according to him, the measures taken to reinforce the security in the port zone — used by migrants to get on boats and trucks heading to England — have caused the smugglers to raise their prices, a situation that "drives the poorest to take even more risks, and therefore try the passage through the tunnel."

On site — inside the slums where the migrants live while waiting for an opportunity to cross — the situation is "very worrying" according to De Coninck. Between 2,000 and 2,500 people are believed to live in the Calais camps. 

"There has been some improvement with water distribution points and garbage disposal, but all of this is still not enough," he said.

Speaking from Singapore, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said that the British government's crisis committee Cobra would meet later on Wednesday to discuss the issue. Cameron said the situation was "very concerning" and outlined the extra fences and security that British authorities were putting in place. 

The British government has agreed to an extra 7 million pounds ($11 million) of funding for measures to improve security at Calais.

"I have every sympathy with holidaymakers who are finding access to Calais difficult because of the disturbances there and we will do everything we can to work with the French to bring these things to a conclusion," the prime minister added.

"There's no point trying to point fingers of blame, it's about working with the French, putting in place these additional security measures, adding in the investment where that's needed — Britain will always come forward with that."

Officially opened in June 1994, the tunnel carries high-speed Eurostar passenger trains that connect Paris and Brussels to London, international freight trains, and the Eurotunnel Shuttle for road vehicles,. A Eurotunnel Shuttle is 775 meters long — roughly the same as eight soccer fields.

According to Eurotunnel, around 1.5 million cargo trucks came through the Channel tunnel in 2014. The British Freight Transport Association has estimated that closures and delays on either side of the Channel are costing the freight industry up to 700,000 pounds a day in losses.

The crisis in Calais has been compounded disgruntled workers from passenger and freight ferry company MyFerryLink, who intermittently blocked the port of Calais and disrupted Eurotunnel traffic from June 29 to July 22 in a dispute over potential job losses.

Meanwhile, Danish ferry operator DFDS resumed its services from Calais to Dover on Tuesday. The company suspended its cross-Channel links Saturday after one of its vessels was hit by a distress flare, believed to have been launched by striking ferry workers.

Calais' Deputy MayorEmmanuel Agius said, "The city of Calais has suffered material losses since the start of the millennium and should be compensated accordingly." Speaking to VICE News on Wednesday, Agius explained that the mayor had called an "intergovernmental summit" to discuss the issue, and to estimate her city's losses as a result of the crisis. "If it's 50 million euros, we'll take it," Agius said, adding that the city was "sick of being held hostage."

According to Agius, the summit will take place before September and will be attended "by Cameron, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, as well as representatives from the port and the tunnel."

Related: The European Union Still Can't Agree on How to Relocate Migrants Stuck in Greece and Italy

The Associated Press contributed to this report.