Cross-Channel transport improving after Calais migrant chaos

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Media captionFootage filmed by the BBC's Nick Garnett on Wednesday morning shows continuing attempts by migrants to board lorries

Cross-Channel transport is returning to normal after a strike by ferry workers which gave hundreds of migrants the chance to try to board queuing lorries.

French workers blocked roads and damaged a train line by starting fires, and migrants trying to reach the UK boarded lorries stuck in the traffic.

Immigration minister James Brokenshire said he had been "advised" that extra French police were being deployed.

He said the UK was continuing to improve security at Dover and Calais.

Mr Brokenshire said the situation was "hugely regrettable" but law and order around Calais were "the responsibility of the French authorities".

Shadow immigration minister David Hanson, who has tabled an urgent question to be asked in the House of Commons later, said he wanted to know what the government was doing to "put pressure on the French to deal with the situation in Calais".

Later, the government is expected to announce a new taskforce to tackle organised immigration crime in the Mediterranean. Many of the migrants at Calais are believed to have crossed the Mediterranean in boats run by people traffickers.

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On Tuesday, Eurostar tweeted that a fire caused by striking ferry workers had damaged the track, leading to all trains being cancelled.

It says services are now running on time, and passengers whose trains did not run are being asked to exchange their tickets - though all trains due to leave London on Wednesday are now fully booked and passengers may not be able to travel until the weekend.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Striking French ferry workers blocked access to the Channel Tunnel with burning tyres on Tuesday
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Migrants climbed onto lorries held in traffic jams

Eurotunnel, which manages the Channel Tunnel and runs car-carrying trains, says services are now "operating to schedule".

Spokesman John Keefe said every truck entering on the French side was being searched for migrants.

Ferry services have also resumed, though there are some delays.

The M20 in Kent is closed coast-bound between Junctions 8 and 9 as part of Operation Stack, where parts of the motorway are used to create a queue for lorries travelling towards the continent.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The M20 in Kent is closed coast-bound as part of Operation Stack

HGV driver Andy Wilson, who was stuck on the UK side of the Channel on Tuesday, told the BBC said his working day was "virtually destroyed".

He added: "There's been various times I've been parked in Calais and woke up in the morning, gone to check my vehicle like I normally do, and found out that there's about three or four people in the back and you've just got to say 'out'.

"When you're driving in toward Calais there's hundreds of migrants just waiting for you to stop."

Asked if there would be deaths, he said: "Without a doubt."

Image copyright AP
Image caption About 3,000 migrants are thought to be living rough around Calais
Image copyright AP
Image caption Migrants have continued to board lorries around Calais on Wednesday
Image caption The BBC's Paul Adams said French police used tear gas to repel migrants on Wednesday

One migrant at Calais, Moaz, said life in France was "difficult" and he believed he could get a home in England "very quickly".

A Sudanese man told the BBC he had heard Britain would not "leave you" to live in a camp like the one he lives in near Calais port.

"They will receive you with food… house, then after that you will get a chance to ask for asylum," he said.

About 3,000 migrants are estimated to be living rough around Calais, waiting for a chance to cross the Channel.

Image caption The BBC's Paul Adams visited a migrant camp in Calais

Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: "I've been meeting with the Home Secretary and Transport Secretary to discuss ensuring we continue to address the problems at Calais."

Home Office minister Mr Brokenshire said: "We have been advised the French authorities are sending further policing to deal with law and order issues, and we will be keeping in close contact with them in the hours ahead."

The UK had already announced extra security measures at ports in northern France and Belgium, where UK Border Force staff work alongside national authorities.

The measures include:

  • a £2m upgrade of detection technology
  • £1m extra for dog searches
  • £12m over three years into a joint fund with France for security at Calais port
  • new fencing in Calais to "enhance security at the port and help protect traffic on the road leading to it"

On Tuesday Philippe Mignonet, a deputy to the mayor of Calais, said French people were "fed up" and Britain must "take responsibility" for policing its borders.

"You're on an island and you can't see that it's your problem to deal with your security. I'm sorry to say so - it's your security," he told the BBC.

Damian Collins, MP for Folkestone and Hythe, said: "If the mayor of Calais has got a beef they should take it up with the French government."

He said French authorities "allow" migrants to cross France "in the hope that they illegally gain entry to the UK".

"I have every sympathy for the people of Calais, but it's their government that is responsible," he said.

Image copyright AP

The Home Office says about 19,000 attempts to cross the Channel have been prevented so far this year, more than double the number during the same period last year.

The new Mediterranean taskforce to be announced later is a 90-strong law enforcement team including staff from the Border Force, the National Crime Agency, Immigration Enforcement and the Crown Prosecution Service.

A handful will be based with Europol in Sicily and the Hague, in the Netherlands, with most on deployment standby in the UK.