UK drivers warned after tensions rise in Calais

With thousands of migrants massed in Calais desperately attempting to get to the UK, driving to the port has become hazardous and Britons are being urged to take care as the summer peak season starts.

UK drivers warned after tensions rise in Calais
Migrants prepare to try and board a truck near Calais in northern France. Photo: AFP

Tens of thousands of Britons including tourists and truckers are expected to head to France in the coming weeks for their summer holidays.

A great many will arrive and return through the port of Calais, where the ongoing migrant crisis appears to be spiraling out of control and tensions are heightening.

This week there were renewed flare ups between migrants and police on the approach roads to the port that left one officer injured.

Migrants are resorting to ever desperate and more dangerous methods to get aboard trucks with reports that they were hurling stones and bags onto roads in order to slow the traffic and give them a better chance of clambering on board a truck.

(Police try to control the movements of the migrants in Calais. Photo: AFP)

This week also saw a shocking video go viral showing migrants swarming around trucks in front of stunned tourists on a coach.Various police sources told AFP that trouble is set to “boil over”.

With Calais the main port for British tourists and truckers authorities in the UK are growing increasingly concerned.

“Having to run the gauntlet on the roads through Calais is not exactly a great way to start or end a holiday in France,” Paul Watters from the UK’s Automobile Association (AA) told The Local.

“These are desperate people and they are taking desperate measures.”

The AA’s head of roads and transport policy said mobile homes and caravans were the most vulnerable and that stopping in motorway rest areas on the road up to Calais was not advised.

“We are advising drivers with caravans and mobile homes to take precautions are make sure their doors and windows are locked,” he said. “Filling up on petrol in advance is a good idea and give yourself plenty of time to get to the port.

Watters said that drivers could think about using a different port if they had time.

“Awareness is the big thing. People on holiday are relaxed and they sometimes forget this kind of stuff.”

Similar warnings are posted on the UK government’s foreign travel advice website.

“We don’t want to discourage people from going. Most journeys to France are trouble free. At the moment the migrants are seen as hazards rather than threatening,” one warning reads.

French police have increased their patrols around Calais and the roads leading up to the port, but they are struggling to cope with the sheer number of migrants.

There are now believed to be around 3,000 amassed in camps in and around the city, many living in squalid conditions.

Most intend on getting to the UK one way or another and after having fled war-torn countries they say they have little to lose.

(Migrants look to find a way into a truck in Calais. Photo: AFP)

But those caught up in the migrants' ever-daring and desperate attempts to get to the UK are still far more likely to be truckers than tourists.

There were reports in the British press in recent days of truck drivers being threatened at knife point if they didn’t open their trailers.

“We must improve the security of the port and the approach to the port,” Peter Cullum from the Road Haulage Association told The Local.

“And we must keep the trucks moving. If they end up stationary then we need more police in place,” he said.

The association met with representatives of the UK government this week to discuss measures to ease the crisis, but concerns are growing about the increase in the number of criminal trafficking gangs getting involved.

“We don’t encourage drivers to look in their trailers or approach the migrants. It’s just too dangerous. They just need to drive them somewhere safe and alert authorities.”

Eurotunnel which operates the shuttle service across the Channel says it has stepped up checks on trucks and is making more space available to them inside the terminal, so they don’t have to wait on the approach roads.

The crisis in Calais has also caused tension between British authorities and their counterparts in France, with Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart threatening to blockade the port unless Britain stumped up more cash to help pay for the problem.

Speaking to The Local this week Britain's ambassador to France Sir Peter Ricketts insisted that it was responsibility of France to provide adequate security at Calais.


“Our top responsibility here as the British rep in France is to ensure the safety of British travellers and British lorry drivers using Calais,” he said.

“Its a French responsibility to ensure security in Calais. Its not a problem that has an easy solution, but that reflects the problem these people won't accept the French offers and they are not entitled to come to the UK.

“At the end of the day these people have to decide that if they are not going to get to the UK, it's much more in their interests to take up asylum in France or go back to their countries of origin. Whatever they choose.

“We are trying to pass the message as best we can to say that Britain is not an El Dorado.”




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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.