The British government has pledged to spend £12 million ($19.6 million) on boosting security measures in the French port of Calais, following a number of incidents in recent weeks in which illegal immigrants have attempted to storm the port and hitch a ride on vehicles passing through it. The money will also be spent on information films designed to educate migrants about “the reality of illegal migration and its consequences for the UK”, according to the Daily Mail.
The plans were drawn up between British Home Secretary Theresa May and her French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve, and includes measures such as more fencing around the port.
Speaking at a press conference, immigration minister James Brokenshire said “Their declaration also reaffirms their commitment to closer working by UK and French law enforcement agencies to target organised crime gangs behind people trafficking and smuggling.”
At the same event, Mr Cazaneuve added “The UK has accepted joint responsibility with France for urgent and long-term measures that need to be enacted to tackle the crisis affecting the migration question in Calais for the last few years.
“They have agreed to pay five million euros a year for the next three years into a joint fund that will strengthen security at the port and protect vulnerable people.”
Pressure has been mounting on the UK to assist the French in policing Calais, with the Mayor of Calais Natascha Bouchart threatening to close the port unless the British took some responsibility for the situation. She said that the immigrants were congregating in the area as they viewed the UK as an “Eldorado” which they were determined to reach.
Clashes between migrants and authorities have been growing both in size and ferocity; last month 150 men tried to make it aboard a ferry leaving the port but were held back by ferry staff turning fire extinguishers on them. Witnesses told how the men simply scaled fences and then dodged past gun-wielding police to make it to the boat. The last week, 250 men tried to halt traffic on the way into the port so that they could climb aboard lorries and stow away. The scene quickly erupted into violence.
A documentary aired on British television last week interviewed migrants trying to make the crossing. One of them, who was unnamed by the programs makers, told them “It’s a better life in the UK. You can find a job in a factory, restaurant or kebab shop. It’s dangerous but we don’t have a choice – we want to go to the UK. I will try my best all day and all night. If we don’t cross we try again. Even if you deport me 10 times I will try again. If you want something you have to try and when you try you get it”.
There are currently estimated to be around 1500 migrants sleeping rough in and around Calais. In 2002 the Sangette Red Cross hostel, which had played host to the migrants, was bulldozed in an effort to deter the migrants from coming to Calais. Since then the Police have regularly razed makeshift camps to the ground and moved the migrants on.
However, Mayor Bouchart has now announced plans for a new refugee centre to be built, saying “a line has been crossed, and now all we can do is take practical action”. The new centre is expected to be able to house up to 2,000 migrants. The last centre was understood to have been home to 18,000 migrants on their way through to the UK in its six year lifespan.
Last month, Britain also donated 12 miles of high security fencing that had been used at the recent Nato Summit in Wales. It was installed around the port.