UK Politics

Warning that Calais migrants may 'target tourists'

An illegal migrant steps into a truck Image copyright AFP
Image caption The French authorities have argued that the problem is a European one

Migrants trying to enter the UK via Calais could start targeting tourist traffic, a Eurotunnel boss has warned.

John Keefe told MPs that the "immigration crisis" at the French port had been largely confined to the truck community but could soon spread.

The Christmas holiday would result in longer queues and "more opportunities" for migrants to jump onto vehicles, he told the Home Affairs Committee.

Calais's mayor has said the UK welfare state acts as a "magnet" to people.

The French authorities have said they have never seen such high numbers of migrants at the port, with an estimated 2,300 people trying to get to the UK illegally.

Giving evidence to the committee's inquiry into the UK's immigration operations, Mr Keefe - Eurotunnel's public affairs director - said the situation was serious.

'Passenger overlap'

"The crisis could potentially get even worse. As we approach winter, it could start to overlap on to the passenger market," he said.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The UK is providing £12m for more fencing and other security measures

Static traffic waiting to board the Channel Tunnel shuttle trains could be targeted.

"The slower the flows of traffic through the border, the more opportunity there is for migrants to jump on to vehicles."

More than 300 trains - including passenger shuttles, truck shuttles, goods trains and Eurostar trains - use the Channel Tunnel every day.

Mr Keefe said migrants were living in "appalling conditions" which some observers had likened to refugee camps.

He said his company was in talks with the Border Force and the Home Office about how to re-introduce exit checks on those leaving the UK in line with a pledge by the coalition government to do so by next May.

'Not a port'

Representatives from the Road Haulage Association and the UK Chamber of Shipping also raised concerns about the state of affairs at Calais.

Peter Cullum, the Road Haulage Association's head of international affairs, said the problem should have been sorted out years ago while Mr Reardon, the Chamber's head of taxation, said Calais was now regarded not as a port and a place to do business but as "a place where there is a problem with migrants".

The UK is contributing £12m to an Anglo-French fund to boost security at Calais but has ruled out sending police to help control the situation.

Also addressing the committee, Home Office minister James Brokenshire said the money would go towards increasing the number of passport controls from 10 to 14, moving them further into the port to create more room for queuing traffic and erecting more fencing in the roads approaching the port.

The Mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, has suggested that fencing will only relocate problems a few meters back towards the town but Mr Brokenshire insisted that it did have a role to play in deterring migrants.

"Fencing and protective security arrangements around ports do matter," he said. "It is about the integrity of the port."

But he said more thought would be given to traffic management to speed up the flow of vehicles onto trains.

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