Jungle migrant camp near Calais. AFP photo by Philippe Huguen
By David Chazan, Paris
27 August 2016 • 9:00pm
About 200 migrants from the Calais area are being smuggled into Britain in lorries each week, French officials and security sources said on Saturday.
The estimate — equivalent to more than 10,000 illegal migrants arriving each year — represents a surge in the number of so-called “lorry drops”, when migrants hiding in the back of goods vehicles jump out after safely reaching the UK.
Official figures show a continuing rise in the number of migrants found in the backs of lorries and cars in Britain, which more than doubled to 6,400 last year, the chief inspector of borders and immigration said in a report last month.
A migrant climbs a security fence of a Eurotunnel terminal in Coquelles near Calais, northern France, on July 30, 2015 Credit: AFP/PHILIPPE HUGUEN
The new French estimate suggests that many more are coming through undetected.
Gangs of armed people-smugglers operating around Calais have started systematically forcing lorries to stop before they reach the port so migrants can break in.
Philippe Mignonet, deputy mayor of Calais, has described the main route to the port as a “no-go area” between midnight and 6 am.
The motorway is regularly blocked with felled trees and debris by masked smugglers, often brandishing large sticks and sometimes knives.
French police responded to mounting political pressure by rushing 140 additional officers to the area this weekend.
Security was tightened around the ferry port and the entrance of Eurotunnel last year after a spate of nightly incidents that saw hundreds of people at a time attempt to enter both facilities, often disrupting tourist traffic.
A few dozen migrants were estimated to succeed in making it to Britain each night at the peak of the incidents.
Efforts to enter the ferry and tunnel terminals tailed off with the introduction of new security measures, including a “moat” of flooded, low-lying land around the tunnel entrance.
Consequently, migrants are now forced to travel further from Calais to stow away in lorries heading for the tunnel or cross-Channel ferries.
“Each lorry is packed with dozens of migrants and many are stopped before they reach England,” a regional security official said.
“But we are certain that a few get through. The estimate is around 200 a week. We know others are crossing in small boats or vans,” the official added.
The Home Office keeps no official tally of the number of illegal migrants entering Britain as it is difficult to estimate the numbers who pass through without being caught, but an official suggested that the figure might be “exaggerated”.
However, unprecedented numbers of migrants are flooding into the notorious “Jungle” camp in Calais, indicating that that they know their chances of crossing the Channel are good.
After months of increasing violence in and around the camp, the number of migrants sheltering there has swelled to a record of about 9,000, according to Xavier Bertrand, the conservative president of the Calais region.
Not only are migrants continuing to arrive in Calais from Italy and other Mediterranean countries, they are now also coming from Germany, apparently preferring to attempt to reach Britain rather than staying where they are to take up Chancellor Angela Merkel’s offer of resettlement.
Repeated clearances of squalid camps in Paris by the city’s increasingly exasperated authorities have led many migrants to travel to Calais.
Mr Bertrand urged the French government to get tough on people-smugglers and migrants terrorising motorists and lorry drivers heading to Calais.
“When migrants are found in a lorry, they’re usually escorted by police a few hundred metres (yards) away, but most of the time there are no legal proceedings and that must change,” Mr Bertrand said.
The lack of security is damaging the local economy in an area where unemployment is nearly double the national average and the far-Right Front National is gaining popularity.
Local officials blame the influx of migrants on what they claim are “lax” British controls on migrants, arguing that the Border Force lacks staff and Britain has too few boats to patrol the coasts and stop migrants.
Mr Bertrand, who is lobbying for a renegotiation of a bilateral agreement allowing UK border controls on French soil so that the Calais migrants’ problem would be shifted to Britain, accused the UK authorities of being content to let the problem fester.
“I am fed up with hypocrisy. Let’s tell the truth, there are migrants who get to England each day thanks to people-smugglers,” he said.
Migrant climbs a security fence of a Eurotunnel terminal in Coquelles near Calais, northern France, on July 30, 2015. AFP photo by Philippe Huguen
“Have you seen a lot of migrants expelled from England? No. Because there are no identity cards and there are certain employers who are happy to hire them and underpay them, knowing that they won’t make a fuss because they’re illegal.”
Many migrants who reach Britain claim asylum as soon as they are caught, making it impossible to deport them immediately. Nearly 18,000 migrants have been arrested for working illegally in the past three years, Home Office figures show, but only one in three was deported.
Rob Whiteman, a former head of the Border Agency, has warned that up to a million illegal immigrants may be living in Britain and are unlikely to be kicked out.
Andrew Bridgen, a Tory MP, said: “It shows that we need to redouble our efforts to secure our borders – that will remove the incentive for migrants to remain in the camps in Calais. We need more use of heat sensors to detect illegal migrants in commercial vehicles – 200 a week is nearly 30 a day.”
“Surely the French can help us? They don’t want the jungle camp there in Calais either,” he added.
Tags: Angela Merkel, Border Agency, Border Security, borders, Britain, Britain's economy, Calais Jungle, Calais’ migrants, England, EU, Europe, European Union, far-Right Front National, France, Germany, illegal workers, immigrants, migrants, people-smugglers, refugees, smuggled migrants, UK, UK border controls on French, working illegally