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Thousands Of Migrants Try To Reach Britain Using The Chunnel


This next story explores a deadly chokepoint for migrants seeking shelter in Europe. They're coming from the Middle East or from Africa. They get across the Mediterranean, and if they continue north through France, they see a shot to reach Great Britain. They've been trying to get through the tunnel that runs under the English Channel. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has been covering the story in Calais, France, which is the French end of the tunnel. Hi, Eleanor.


INSKEEP: So there's not exactly a pedestrian lane in this tunnel, right? This is a train tunnel. What are people trying to do?

BEARDSLEY: The young people are trying to jump onboard the trains or stow in the back of the trucks, which are then loaded onto the trains which pass through the tunnel. The police are overwhelmed. This week, thousands - literally, they said 1,500 migrants the night before last tried to storm the tunnel to get on trucks. And one migrant was run over by a truck and killed. So the French interior minister yesterday announced additional reinforcements put up at Calais to guard the tunnel entrance.

INSKEEP: I'm trying to figure out what it is people are doing there because they have already reached Europe, obviously. They're in northern France. What makes them want to risk their lives to take the extra step to get to Britain?

BEARDSLEY: Exactly. Well, these are people from countries torn by war and dictatorships like Sudan, Eretria and now many Syrians. There's a myth out there that Britain is the El Dorado - that they'll be able to get better benefits when they apply for asylum, and that they'll be able to find a job working on the black market, which may be a little easier than France. So they've come this far. As you've said, it takes six months sometimes to get here through horrible places like lawless Libya, where they don't think they'll even get out with their lives. So just getting a few miles more, you know, they're ready to risk it all.

INSKEEP: But for this moment at least, they're crowding in northern France and looking for their chance to hop a train or truck. How are people in northern France responding to this?

BEARDSLEY: Yeah. Well, the people in Calais - it's just a little town - they're overwhelmed, OK. And of course, many people are helping them and many people are angry, as anywhere. But there's these squatters camps, where the migrants have set up tents and wood in the dunes there. The place is a really sore point between Britain and France, who accuse each other of not doing enough. I watched an interview yesterday with the British Home Secretary Theresa May. And the question sort of summed it up. The interviewer said why are the British taxpayers paying for a French problem? And he said what about, you know, the inconvenience to truckers and vacationers? And Steve, this is not a French problem. This is a European problem. It's part of the larger migrant crisis. Migrants are pouring into Europe in unprecedented numbers. You know, I was just in Calais last month, and it's a tragic, jarring situation. I mean, this is the place where the First World rubs up against the Third World, and we see the migrants. But these are individuals with stories, who had lives. They were teachers, mathematicians, and they just want a shot at a normal life. They wouldn't be here if they had any choice, but their lives back home were miserable.

INSKEEP: Has anybody in Calais simply said welcome?

BEARDSLEY: Yes, Steve, there are people trying to help them. And there are aid organizations and individuals. I met a woman who charges the migrants' cell phones because that's the only way they can keep contact with their families back home. But imagine - the people there are overwhelmed - imagine thousands of people from other countries who don't speak your language are pouring into your town and setting up makeshift camps, so it's a very difficult situation for the people.

INSKEEP: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, thanks very much.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.