British govt to meet over migrant crisis

  • 31/07/2015

The British government will hold an emergency meeting to grapple with a migrant crisis on its doorstep, as police in northern France blocked at least 200 people from reaching the Channel tunnel.

An AFP journalist saw waves of people descend onto the railways on foot close to the Eurotunnel site around 9pm on Thursday (local time), only to be halted by police.

At least a dozen more made it past the cordon, but ran straight into a second line of officers waiting a hundred metres further down the line.

Around 3000 people from countries including Syria and Eritrea are camping out in the northern French port of Calais, and trying to cross into Britain illegally by clambering on board lorries and trains.

France has bolstered its police presence in Calais and migrants have made fewer attempts to enter the Eurotunnel than in previous nights.

Traffic through the tunnel, which had been severely disrupted the previous day, was barely affected.

Britain's prime minister, meanwhile, has come under fire for controversial comments on the crisis.

David Cameron referred to a "swarm of people" wanting to come to his country to seek better lives and find employment, speaking while on a visit to Vietnam.

Cameron will chair a meeting of his government's COBRA emergency committee on Friday, while Britain has also pledged STG7 million (NZ$16.62 million) to improve fencing around the Eurotunnel rail terminal at Coquelles, northern France.

Britain's Ministry of Defence is also considering freeing up some of its land to become temporary lorry parks to help reduce long queues on the motorway in Kent, southern England, due to delays.

The crisis in Calais has spiked in intensity in the past few days, with upwards of 2000 desperate bids nightly to sneak into the tunnel.

One man died early Wednesday, apparently crushed by a lorry as he tried to make it into the tunnel.

Another migrant, who had suffered head injuries at the weekend, died earlier in the week, bringing to 10 the total number of deaths since June.

A teenage Egyptian boy was also fighting for his life after being electrocuted after jumping onto the roof of a Eurostar train bound for London at Paris's central Gare du Nord station.

Cameron's comments earned him criticism from acting opposition Labour Party leader Harriet Harman, who said Cameron should "remember he is talking about people, not insects".

The Refugee Council, a leading British charity which works with asylum seekers, said it was "awful, dehumanising language from a world leader".

Meanwhile, Britain's tabloid media have taken great pleasure in lashing out at two of their favourite targets: government immigration policy and the French.

Many called for the British army to be sent to France to stop migrants trying to cross the Channel.

Over five pages of coverage, the right-wing Daily Mail included one opinion piece headlined: "We kept out Hitler. Why can't our feeble leaders stop a few thousand exhausted migrants?"