Migrants use tunnel rail chaos to make bid for UK

The partial closure of the Channel Tunnel caused havoc in France on Tuesday as migrants crowded round trucks queuing for ferry services, trying to sneak on board in desperate attempts to get to Britain.

Migrants use tunnel rail chaos to make bid for UK
Migrants wait by the roadside near Calais in the hope of boarding trucks to try to get to the UK. Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP

A power failure on Monday forced the closure of a section of the track in the undersea tunnel going from France to Britain, spelling chaos for travellers as several Eurostar train services were cancelled.

A spokesman for Eurotunnel, which manages the undersea link, said Tuesday afternoon that the problem had been solved and that the tunnel was once again working at full capacity.

But the delays caused severe disruptions to transport services – particularly to freight links – forcing truck drivers to try and catch ferries in the nearby port city of Calais, only to find themselves grinding to a standstill on a three-kilometre-long (two-mile-long) road leading to the boat terminal.

Many of the trucks were surrounded by dozens of migrants trying to sneak under the axles of the vehicles or into the trailers, forcing drivers to get out of their cabins to try and stop them from getting on board before they passed immigration controls.

Migrant camps have sprung up in and around Calais for several years, and while French police have tried to dislodge them, they have largely been unsuccessful. 

Many migrants hope to hide in trucks or other vehicles crossing to Britain, where they believe conditions are better for would-be refugees than in France.

The power failure in the tunnel on Monday caused a train to stop about a quarter of the way through the 50-kilometre-long tunnel, forcing the 382 people and four dogs on board to be evacuated.

The Eurotunnel spokesman said traffic was now back to normal.

"Repairs took a long time as we had to change 800 metres of overhead lines in this section. An operation over such a distance in a confined space takes some time," he said.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


UK slammed for giving asylum to tunnel walker

The company which operates the Channel Tunnel said on Tuesday Britain's decision to grant asylum to a Sudanese man who walked the passage between France and England was "unfortunate".

UK slammed for giving asylum to tunnel walker
Photo: AFP

Abdul Rahman Haroun, 40, was granted asylum on December 24, after being arrested on suspicion of walking through the 31-mile (50 kilometre) tunnel in August.

“It is unfortunate because it can give bad ideas to certain migrants and encourage them to risk their lives,” a spokesman for Eurotunnel told AFP.

The Channel operator has struggled for months with migrants storming their premises to get into the tunnel and attempt to make their way to Britain.

Stepped-up security has significantly slowed the attempts to get through, but in mid-December between 800 and 1,000 migrants made a desperate bid to storm the tunnel, resulting in clashes with security forces.

Local government estimates up to 4,500 people fleeing war and poverty in Asia, the Middle East and Africa are living in notoriously squalid conditions in a makeshift camp in Calais known as the “Jungle”.

Many of the refugees and migrants want to reach Britain because they speak English, or because they have relatives there, others simply believe their chances of a better life are higher in Britain.

At least 18 have died since last June trying to get across the Channel, but Haroun was one of the few make it through alive.

He was arrested in Kent, in southeast England, and charged under an 1861 law on malicious damage with causing an obstruction to an engine or carriage using the railway.

His case was on Monday postponed for two weeks while prosecutors weigh whether to proceed with it.

With security tight around the Calais Jungle, authorities in Belgium said this week that a growing number of migrants are seeking to leave for Britain from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, located some 130 kilometres (80 miles) north of Calais.