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At Least 1,500 Migrants Attempt To Storm English Channel Tunnel In France

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

A humanitarian crisis is worsening in the French port city of Calais. Over the last few days, thousands of migrants have tried to storm the tunnel under the English Channel. They're trying to get on trucks and trains going to Britain. From Paris, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley sent this report.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: French news broadcasts showed scenes of hundreds of men trying to climb fences and board trucks in the dark of night, their last leg in a perilous journey from countries at war and under dictatorship. The migrants, many of whom speak some English, want to get to Britain where they believe their prospects for a job and asylum are better. Calais police union head Bruno Noel says his forces are overwhelmed.

BRUNO NOEL: (Through interpreter) We're living a dramatic situation. There are too few of us to deal with the growing numbers. We chase them away, and they just come back.

BEARDSLEY: In the past two years, the number of migrants fleeing misery in countries such as Eritrea, Syria and Sudan has rocketed. Southern European nations such as Italy and Greece are not the only countries dealing with the crisis as the migrants head north.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNARD CAZENEUVE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said today that he was sending police reinforcements to Calais. Calais has become a sore point between Britain and France. On Tuesday, British home secretary Theresa May announced £7 million, or about $11 million, to help build new fences and deport migrants who do not qualify for asylum. But Christian Salome with l'Auberge des Migrants, an association that helps feed and shelter migrants, says the increased security won't change things.

CHRISTIAN SALOME: (Through interpreter) It's not a question of putting more barbed wire or fences. The more difficult we make things, the more people will risk their lives to get through.

BEARDSLEY: As Britain, France and the tunnel management trade accusations about whose responsibility it is to keep the migrants from blocking access to the tunnel and creating problems for truckers and tourists, the migrants in Calais are living in squalid conditions and fighting for a better future. When I visited Calais last month, I met 20-year-old Pakistani student Omar Shaktar hanging around a line of waiting trucks, looking for a chance to get on one. Shaktar said it took him six months to get to Calais.

OMAR SHAKTAR: We come from Pakistan, get to Iran, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, after, Italy and get to France.

BEARDSLEY: Shaktar said back home in Northwest Pakistan, he lived in constant fear of the Taliban, and he simply wants the chance to live free.

SHAKTAR: I really had bad life there in Pakistan. It's a dangerous life there. I want to be free life. I want to be better life like other humans like stay in Europe.

BEARDSLEY: Nine migrants have died since June attempting to cross the Channel Tunnel to Britain from Calais. Another migrant is in critical condition after being electrocuted while trying to jump on a train today. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.