FRANCE

Video: Calais migrants taking increasing risks to reach UK

For the migrants who have reached the French port of Calais, reaching England is an obsession.They are willing to take any risks to reach this El Dorado, as is clearly demonstrated in this video which shows dozens of migrants attempting to climb into moving vehicles on the national highway.

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For the migrants who have reached the French port of Calais, reaching England is an obsession.They are willing to take any risks to reach this El Dorado, as is clearly demonstrated in this video which shows dozens of migrants attempting to climb into moving vehicles on the national highway.

 

Groups containing dozens of migrants wait alongside the road a few metres from the entrance to the ferry which goes from France to England. Their placement is strategic: the cars slow down at this point, giving the migrants a better chance of climbing aboard these vehicles.

Like many Brits returning from vacation in Europe, Matt Stanley, a teacher from Bedworth, took this road on his way back to the UK on 25 August 2014. To his surprise, he saw about ten migrants begin to chase a truck driving ahead of him. At the moment that he started filming, one of the migrants had forced open the back door and was trying to help the others climb on board. In total, six of them managed. The others, explained Matt Stanley, were not dissuaded but tried to climb into the baggage compartment of his bus.

 

An estimated 1500 migrants are currently camping in the region around Calais. Most make daily attempts to cross the channel into England. On Thursday, about a hundred migrants swarmed the entry to the port and managed to force open the barriers.

Other desperate migrants try to swim around the port in an attempt to climb onto a ferry boat, says Séverine Mayer, the president of the humanitarian association Calais,Ouverture et Humanité.

For her, the fact that migrants are taking greater and greater risks to cross is a sign that they no longer want to wait.

‘More are coming to Calais, but less manage to get to England’

What you see in the footage is the result of government actions that started several months ago. First, on 28 May, migrants were expelled from one of the smaller makeshift camps in the area. Suddenly, these migrants found themselves with nothing. It was a difficult day for everyone. Then, on July 2, the main migrant camp was cleared and some of the migrants were arrested. Some were released after 48 hours, while others were sent to detention centres.

The police objective was to disperse the migrants but, after a few days, they had all returned. Moreover, even more migrants had arrived in the meantime. In the past few weeks, the weather has been good for crossing the Mediterranean into Italy, meaning migrants have managed to enter Europe.

In this context of closures, arrests and overcrowding, there is a sense of desperation amongst the migrants about getting to England as soon as possible. They are terrified of being repatriated, to have done all of that for nothing. But even if there are more and more coming to Calais, less are managing to get to England.

 

Migrants alongside roads near Calais. Video: Matt Stanley.

 

‘There is no longer respect for the migrants’ unwritten rules of crossing’

 

Before, the crossing points were organised within specific communities. The Syrians, the Eritreans, the Sudanese etc each had their own specific crossing spot. Up until now, there was a respect for these unwritten rules. But most recent arrivals are so desperate to cross that they are no longer respecting these rules, which inevitably creates tensions. [Editor’s note: In early August, fights broke out between Eritreans and Sudanese migrants near the port.]

The kind of crossing attempt that we see in the footage is very dangerous. Some migrants have actually been killed by bad falls. It’s also dangerous for the drivers who have to slam on the brakes at the last minute. Truck drivers are furious because this creates horrible work conditions for them. They don’t understand how the migrants could possibly act so aggressively. And, honestly, to get the situation under control, you’d need one policeman for each migrant. And, even then, the police presence would just contribute to the desperation of these men and women.

 

Police force migrants to climb out of a truck near Calais. Video: Matt Stanley.

 

‘Without the camps, the migrants no longer have a space for resting and thinking. They think of nothing but their departure.’

 

The successive closures of the camps has removed the possibility for the migrants of resting and thinking about their situation. They think of nothing but their departure. When they reach Calais, England is only 50 kilometres away. They have already traveled immense distances from their home countries. You can understand why they refuse to give up at this point.

 

The Sangatte Centre, the last official welcome centre for migrants in Calais, was closed in 2002 during Nicolas Sarkozy ‘s presidency. The centre, run by the Red Cross, had been overwhelmed by huge arrivals of migrants: it had 800 places, but was housing 1800 people.

In early September, municipal authorities in Calais announced the creation of a new day centre for migrants. The building, with space for 400 migrants, should open in the next month.

Séverine Mayer is not convinced that it is an appropriate response to the crisis.

If we don’t find a solution to provide shelter at night for the migrants, camps will inevitably reopen. You have to think of the daily rhythm of the migrants in Calais. Most try to cross at night. If they fail, they need to have a space that they can come back to. If we don’t understand that, then it’s only a shelter in name, not in practice.

This post was co-written with FRANCE 24 journalist Ségolène Malterre.