Peter Stewart, PortandTerminal.com, June 2, 2019
Seventy-four people including children have been detained after eight small boats were intercepted in the English Channel trying to reach England from Calais
Calais, France – Britain’s Border Force intercepted 74 people Saturday, including minors, on eight vessels trying to cross the English Channel into Britain. French authorities stopped two other boats.
France’s northern ports have born the brunt of the European migrant crisis since it began in the late 1990s. No port has been affected more though than the Port of Calais, which has been at the epicentre of the crisis since it began.
Port of Calais
The Port of Calais is a vital economic trade link between the continent and the UK. Each year it handles $USD 133 billion worth of trade with the UK. Calais is the largest passenger port in France, handling 9 million ferry passengers last year who used it to travel to and from the UK. The port is also the second largest RO-RO port in Europe and a vital link for the automotive industry between the UK and the continent.
Since the late 1990s, Calais has been under siege by thousands of migrants, asylum seekers, the press, police and security officials. Through it all, officials and staff at the Port of Calais have been forced to adapt to and operate in extremely difficult conditions to keep the passengers and the trade moving.
Starting in the late 1990s growing numbers of people, including women and children, were found sleeping in the streets of Calais and surrounding towns. Most were hoping to enter the UK, either through the Channel Tunnel under, or one of the many ferries over the English Channel.
Squalid “jungle” camps sprang up near Calais that were populated by desperate travellers hoping to reach the UK by any means possible. Living conditions in this cold, Northern European climate were grim and there have been numerous accounts of abuse of migrants by officials.
Over the years officials have made a number of well publicized moves to clear out the camps and relocate its residents. In an April 2009 raid on a migrant camp, the French authorities arrested 190 people and used bulldozers to destroy tents, but by July 2009 a new camp was established which the BBC estimated had 800 inhabitants.
This pattern of authorities clearing the camps out and then having them sprout up again elsewhere in Calais has been going on for years. In October 2016 though French authorities announced that the camp had been finally cleared for good. About 6,000 people were moved to temporary reception centres throughout France.
The reality on the ground though is that Calais will always be an attractive destination for people who are desperate to reach the UK. Hundreds of people are still living in and around Calais despite the closure of the Jungle Camps.
Port of Calais Security Incidents
The Port of Calais has been forced to cease operations a number of times due to security breaches by migrants. Truckers who use the port have also been attacked as well.
In one incident in January, 2016 officials were forced to close the Port of Calais after a crowd of desperate people stormed the port and attempted to board ferries bound for the UK. The Danish firm DFDS Seaways called the incident a ‘migrant invasion’.
Since the start of the European migrant crisis, truck drivers heading for the UK have been repeatedly threatened and attacked. In December 2015, 13 trucks were hit with stones, with the attackers trying to jump into trucks from motorway overpasses.
Other incidents include individuals setting road blocks up on the highway leading to the port to force drivers to stop and allow migrants to board the trucks.
Heightened Security Measures at the Port
Britain and France operate a system of Juxtaposed controls on immigration and customs.
Investigations happen before travel under this procedure. The British check on the French side and once clear, no other checks are implemented upon entry on the British side.
Once stowaways are in a vehicle in the tunnel, they are able to enter the United Kingdom without further checks.
The port of Calais is protected by 16ft (5m) fences topped with coils of razor wire and CCTV, with the gates and exterior guarded by heavily armed French riot police.
To combat the threat that the migrants pose a number of additional security measures have been implemented.
1. Advanced Detection Systems
It has become clear though that the current scanners used by the Border Force officers are not enough to fight the increasingly advanced methods used by gangs to smuggle migrants in trucks bound for the UK.
In 2018 the British Home Office issued an invitation to tech companies for proposals on how they would develop advanced detection systems. Clearly the current systems are not doing the job given the demands placed on them of screening 2 million trucks each year.
“The authority requires a next generation fast screening technological solution to screen between 200 to 250 freight vehicles per hour which is capable of responding to changing patterns on concealment where persons illegally stowed are increasingly hidden deeper within trailer loads.”
2. Calais Border Wall
In 2016 a 4 meter concrete wall, derisively known as the “Great Wall of Calais,” was built along a highway to stop migrants from sneaking onto trucks in efforts to reach Britain (pictured above). The wall cost an estimated $USD 3.5 million to build and was funded by the British Government. The wall is 1 km in length and runs along the area of where the Calais Jungle used to be located.
Truck drivers who may suspect that illegal migrants are on board their vehicle are instructed pull over at the port entrance, where riot police wait. Failure to do so can be costly – in the UK imposing a £2,000 fine ($USD 2,500) per stowaway.
4. Guarded Truck Park
In 2016 a new guarded truck park was introduced. The truck park is four hectares in size, and has fifteen lanes with space for 1100 heavy vehicles. It features a new CCTV system and new security fencing around its perimeter.
New Security Threats
The distance between Calais in France and Dover on the UK side is just 21 miles (35 km) at its narrowest point.
Increasingly, desperate people are taking to the sea in small boats to make the crossing from France to their ultimate goal, the United Kingdom.
French interior minister Christophe Castaner revealed that 71 attempted boat crossings were recorded in 2018 compared to just 12 the previous year.
More than 500 individuals, most Iranian, tried to cross the narrow stretch of water, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, during 2018, French Interior Ministry data showed.
Some 276 of them reached British waters while the French authorities thwarted the attempts of another 228. More than 80 percent of the crossings were attempted in December 2018.
Britain is paying for drones to patrol the coast of France as part of efforts to prevent illegal migrants attempting to cross the Channel, the French government has said.
Funding for the drones and other security measures was pledged in January 2018 when the UK promised a further £44.5m ($US 57 million) for fencing, CCTV and detection technology in Calais and other French ports.
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