HUFFINGTON POST
08/04/2015 04:01 pm ET Updated Aug 06, 2015

What To Know About Calais' Spiraling Migrant Crisis

The French town is the site of a makeshift camp called "the Jungle."
<span>Migrants walk on a road outside the Eurotunnel area, in Calais, northern France, Wednesday, July 29, 2015.</span>
(Credit: Thibault Camus/Associated Press)
Migrants walk on a road outside the Eurotunnel area, in Calais, northern France, Wednesday, July 29, 2015.

Thousands of migrants are living in a makeshift shanty village in the northern French port town of Calais known as "the Jungle." Night after night hundreds journey from the Jungle toward the nearby Channel Tunnel. The tunnel is a direct route to England, where migrants believe they can have a better life. Many are arrested, and some have died -- just how many make it across successfully is unknown.

Many migrants are from war-torn countries, like Libya and Syria, and their numbers in Calais have peaked in recent weeks as efforts to reach safety have become increasingly desperate. Although Calais has been a site of unauthorized migrant camps for more than 15 years, the governments in France and the U.K. are coming under mounting pressure from policymakers and the public to stem the flow of migration.

<span>Migrants and asylum seekers gather amidst tents and shelters at a makeshift camp in Calais, northern France, Wednesday,
(Credit: Michel Spingler/Associated Press)
Migrants and asylum seekers gather amidst tents and shelters at a makeshift camp in Calais, northern France, Wednesday, May 27, 2015. 

The Roots Of Calais' Migration Crisis

Calais has been a bottleneck for migrants seeking asylum and a better life in Britain for years, due to the port's close proximity to the Channel Tunnel.

In the late 1990s, Calais became a hub for migrants fleeing the conflict in Kosovo -- some of the town's residents still refer to migrants of any background as "Les Kosos."

In 1999 the French Red Cross set up a refugee camp in the neighboring village of Sangatte to absorb the migrant influx. Eurotunnel, the company that operates the Channel Tunnel, stated at the time that up to 200 migrants would attempt to smuggle themselves into Britain each night.  

<span>French gendarmes try to stop migrants on the Eurotunnel site in Coquelles near Calais, northern France, on late July 29
(Credit: Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images)
French gendarmes try to stop migrants on the Eurotunnel site in Coquelles near Calais, northern France, on late July 29, 2015. 

In response, Eurotunnel increased security by erecting barbed wire fences around the freight terminal. Britain also moved its border control to Calais in 2003, to ensure it could carry out passport checks and inspections before people crossed the tunnel.

As the numbers of migrants rose there were reports that the Sangatte camp faced problems maintaining proper standards of care. French authorities closed the camp in 2002. Part of the argument for the camp's closure was that it was attracting migrants attempting to cross the Channel Tunnel, according to a BBC report. This perspective, that humanitarian aid acts as a pull factor for migrants, persists among many EU nations, including the United Kingdom. 

The Jungle

Even after the closure of Sangatte, migrants continued to arrive in Calais and build makeshift camps. An estimated 3,000 migrants live in the Calais area. In recent years there has been a population surge in the ramshackle tent and shanty community called the Jungle. Many migrants living there fled war or oppression in countries like Syria, Iraq and Eritrea. Afghans, Sudanese and Ethiopians are among the other migrants who have bolstered the numbers in the camps. 

While French police estimate that 70 percent of migrants in Calais do not stay in the town for longer than four months, the Jungle is showing signs of becoming semi-permanent. There are makeshift shops, bars, and even schools and churches inside the encampment community.

Humanitarian conditions in the Jungle are poor. There's no running water and migrants have reported cases of abuse at the hands of French police, according to Human Rights Watch. The French government has taken some steps to improve conditions in the camp, including setting up a refugee center nearby for 120 women and children, on the grounds of an old children's summer camp. But measures like these are only a temporary solution -- the center quickly reached capacity after being completed in January. Some migrants say the the camp's squalid conditions keep them focused on their final destination: England.

The relationship between migrants and residents are tense in Calais. There is animosity on the part of locals who believe the camps have driven away business from the town, which is already suffering some of the highest unemployment in the country. 

<span>Migrants trying to reach the Channel Tunnel run past a policeman on the Eurotunnel site in Coquelles near Calais, north
(Credit: Philippe Huguen/Getty Images)
Migrants trying to reach the Channel Tunnel run past a policeman on the Eurotunnel site in Coquelles near Calais, northern France, on late July 29, 2015. 

Crossing The Tunnel

Each night hundreds of migrants make their way a few miles west toward the entrance to the Channel Tunnel at Coquelles. Migrants climb over or cut through massive barbed wire fences in large groups, before trying to rush into the tunnel passed police. 

Some try to make it onto trains headed through the tunnel, while others attempt to hide in the back of trucks driving across. Since June, at least nine people have died trying to cross into Britain. 

Despite the dangers many are undeterred. French police reported hundreds of these "incursions" every night last week, with a high of 2,000 last Monday. These figures are thought to include repeat attempts.

The Eurotunnel company says it has blocked 37,000 migrant attempts to get through the passageway to England since January.

The Response

Britain and France have primarily treated the crisis as a security concern rather than a humanitarian one, each pointing a finger at the other for a lack of prevention methods. 

The deputy mayor of Calais, Emmanuel Agius, suggested last week that Britain hasn't done enough to limit its appeal to migrants. A politician from the U.K.'s governing Conservative Party, Tim Loughton, accused France of trying to "make a European problem a British problem."

British Prime Minister David Cameron came under fire from opposition politicians and refugee groups last week after he used the dehumanizing term "swarm of people" to refer to the migrants. He was also criticized for apologizing to British vacationers for the inconvenience they faced due to the humanitarian crisis. Meanwhile, Britain has promised to commit an extra 7 million pounds (about $11 million) to reinforce the tunnel and port on the French side. 

 

Migrants making asylum claims have increased across of Europe recently due to increased conflict in the Middle East and North Africa.

Calais' migration crisis is, in part, a symptom of the lack of a cohesive European Union policy on how to handle asylum claims. States that accept the largest number of asylum claims, such as Germany and Italy, have called for more equal distribution of migrants across the EU, but attempts to establish a quota system have failed.

Migration is an extremely politically divisive issue in Europe, and support has risen for a number of anti-immigration parties across the EU. 

In comparison with many other European nations, Britain has received a relatively small number of asylum claims, and the country can opt-out of any EU policy on migration. 

Clarification: A reference to England as being a "member nation" of the EU has been changed to "the United Kingdom." England, obviously, is part of the U.K., which is the member nation.

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