For years, crossing the English Channel via ferry or Chunnel (the channel tunnel) has been a well-traveled option for tourists traveling between Paris and London. But, the Calais to Dover crossing has become the latest flash point area for Europe’s migrant crisis that continues to flare out of control stranding hundreds of Chunnel travelers in Calais.
Northern France and southern England became a scene of chaos for travelers on Tuesday. Crowds of migrants have been trying to climb aboard England bound vehicles, which was already a safety and security issue. Then, today, the two main ways to make the crossing from Calais to Dover were shut down by a French ferry workers strike, adding to the confusion and leaving business and tourism travelers stuck overnight (or longer).
Driving a car or motorcycle through the Chunnel is not allowed. Motorists and motorcyclists have to take a ferry or use the car train service, which involves someone driving their vehicle onto the Euro Shuttle train, which then takes the vehicle through the Chunnel. Prices charges are per car, so additional riders will not cost more (this exacerbated the problem Tuesday).
An estimated 3,000 illegal migrants have been camped out around Calais. They are some of the illegal European migrants who have come up from North Africa and the Middle East. Many try to make their way to England, where they believe it will be easier to make a living. So, they try to board trucks or vehicles making the crossing. Last year, the British government pledged £12m to help France address the problem of illegal migrants trying to enter the UK through Calais.
Motorists have been warned to keep their doors locked because of the growing number of migrants in the Calais area. Truck drivers had been told that they should not stop without 60 miles of the port and keep their truck’s back doors padlocked.
On Tuesday, however, traffic jams backed up for miles when the striking ferry workers blocked the port and Channel tunnel entrance. They event set fire to fires on the tracks, which make them unusable, adding to the problem.
Hundreds of migrants tried to exploit the situation and jump in the backs of United Kingdom-bound trucks lined up along the motorway hoping the strikers’ blockade would end soon. They would approach trucks in small groups and hide in the cargo. This caused more chaos and slow downs as security and immigration personnel tried to detect and remove illegal migrants from vehicles.
The inability to cross the channel forced many to try to find lodging or sleep in vehicles, which authorities were discouraging given the bands of migrants roaming the area. People desperate to get back to London tried to leave the area and book passage on the Eurostar, the passenger train that runs from Paris to London. However, earlier today, the first seats available were on Friday and going fast.
Meanwhile, the workers who were striking are facing job losses. The Eurotunnel operators are selling to of their three ferries to a Danish company, which will result in a downsizing.
Ferry and car-train services are expected to restart on Wednesday, if they finish repair work on railway tracks overnight. However, major delays will still be stranding Chunnel travelers as officials add additional border security and inspections on both the Calais and Dover sides to deal with the Europe migrant crisis, at least in the short term. However, something broader needs to be done across Europe to address the problem.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
Chunnel.Org – Take The Chunnel From England To France
BBC: UK pledges tighter border security after Calais strike
NBC News: Channel Tunnel Chaos: Stranded Travelers Told to Wait Till Friday
The Telegraph: Calais crisis: Hundreds of Britons stranded as migrants exploit strike chaos