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IMMIGRATION

Eurostar chaos after migrants ‘climb on trains’

Hundreds of passengers were left stranded on Eurostar trains in the early hours of Wednesday after several suspected migrants climbed onto the tracks near the French port of Calais.

Eurostar chaos after migrants 'climb on trains'
Eurostar passengers left stranded on trains and at stations after migrants break onto tracks. Photo: AFP

Latest: 

  • Eurostar say services will run as normal on Wednesday although two trains have been cancelled
  • Passengers on trains sent back to Paris and London will be put on trains on Wednesday
  • The passengers stranded in Calais will be taken to London on a “rescue train” that will leave at 9.30

 

Six Eurostar trains were blocked on both sides of the Channel Tunnel ovenight on Tuesday leaving hundreds of passengers stranded.

By 5:00 am French time (0300 GMT), passengers on the 9055 train from Paris to London were still waiting at the Calais-Frethun station in northern France after “intruders” on the tracks blocked trains from entering the Channel Tunnel, a Eurostar official said.

Water and food have been distributed to passengers and “rescue services are also present for those who need help, particularly the elderly,” added the official, describing the situation as “complicated”.

The Local's Oliver Gee was on one of the blocked Eurostar trains, that was travelling from London to Paris.

“Our conductor gave very little information, other than to say 'there were people on the tracks'. As the hours passed people were becoming irritated, until the conductor finally announced we were going back to London.

“Back at St Pancras it was an absolute mess. There was one member of staff surrounded by 100 people yelling at her in French and English. One man had to be held back by others because he was so angry.”

 

A passenger aboard the train, Geraldine Guyon, said the situation remained tense in the station, which lies close to the port of Calais where some 3,000 migrants living in makeshift camps have been ramping up their attempts to cross the tunnel to Britain.

“There must be about 1,000 people on the platforms which are full to overflowing. There is no communication, soldiers are present,” said Guyon from the train of 18 cars, which could be carrying a maximum of 750 people under Eurostar rules.

Clothilde, 23-year-old French woman who lives in London, said she had seen the police hurrying down the train and believed there were migrants on the roof.

“We have not see the migrants, but we knew that they were everywhere on the roof and that's why we waited for a helicopter to ensure there were no migrants above us,” she said, adding: “Passengers are not allowed to leave the station, except to take a taxi at the entrance.”

 

'Security forces have intervened'

A spokesman for French rail company SNCF said people on the tracks on the French side of the tunnel had forced a train to slow down.

“Once the train stopped, law enforcement intervened… and that blocked Eurostar services that were travelling towards London and the power had to be cut for safety reasons,” he said.

A Eurostar official said the company hoped to transport passengers to London, the train's original destination, in the coming hours. Five other trains originally disrupted by the incident have either been sent back to where they departed from or on to their final destination.

“We are doing everything possible to ensure passengers are welcomed with a drink, food, taxis and hotels when they arrive,” a Eurostar spokesman said.

France and Britain have brought in emergency measures to deal with a surge in the number of migrants trying cross the Channel Tunnel after people died while making a desperate attempt to reach England.

London has announced an extra seven million pounds (9.8 million euros) to help France secure the Eurotunnel site on its side of the Channel, in addition to 4.7 million euros already spent on erecting barriers aimed at securing access to the terminal and the platforms.

But Europe is struggling to cope with a surge in new arrivals fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, and Eurostar services have been repeatedly hit as thousands of them have attempted to reach what they see as
the “El Dorado” of Britain.

Services on the Channel Tunnel were also disrupted by striking French sailors, who blocked Calais for several days in July.

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POLITICS

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.

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