Migrants cross the English Channel to reach Britain despite an agreement between the UK and France: NPR

Migrants continue to try to cross the English Channel to reach Britain, despite an agreement between the UK and France to strengthen police enforcement.


Migrants have been migrating through Africa and Europe to the northern French coast for years. The aim is to enter Britain where they believe they have a better chance of asylum and employment. Increased security around the Channel Tunnel forced migrants to cross and boats and rafts. Now there is a new agreement between the French and British governments to further tackle migration. Rescuers say it won’t solve the problem. Here’s Eleanor Beardsley from NPR.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: A sprawling migrant camp in the sand dunes outside Calais known as the Jungle was dismantled by authorities years ago, but that hasn’t stopped migrants from perishing. The muddy encampments are just smaller and scattered.

Everywhere you see people cooking in their shoes and garbage bags full of old clothes and empty cartons of milk, all things that migrants have probably thrown away in recent months or even years.

Hello. Do you speak English?

Twenty-year-old Adam Eissel is from Sudan.

Why did you leave Sudan?

ADAM EISSEL: Because of insecurity. And you know, it’s not security. And wars. You know, we are always attacked by neighbors and others, like robbers.

BEARDSLEY: Those raiders, the Janjaweed militia who terrorized Darfur. Before he fled a year ago, Eissel attended management school. Now he is willing to pay up to €2,500 to smugglers for a seat on an overcrowded raft and the chance to reach Britain.

PIERRE ROQUES: What we can see is that people are desperate. They’re ill-welcomed everywhere, so it’s sort of a last chance, last resort, UK

BEARDSLEY: That’s Pierre Roques, of the Auberge des Migrants aid group. He says there is a constant game of cat and mouse along the French coast – migrants trying to evade the police, who try to enforce rules against migrants establishing permanent bases.

ROQUES: The police arrive in the camps – people have to move their tents about a hundred meters, and if they are not there, the police – they take their personal belongings with them. They confiscate it, and – but it’s almost impossible to get it back, and it broke in the process.

BEARDSLEY: Roques is calling this a humanitarian crisis, but says the French and British governments are treating it as a security issue. Under a recent deal, Britain will pay France $75 million over the next year to bolster police patrols along the coast, but that won’t stop people from coming here, said Andrea Spiker, an aid worker with the organization Stand by You.

ANDREA SPIKER: No, because they don’t want to stay here. They’re just here to leave. They come here because it’s the shortest way to the UK by sea

BEARDSLEY: Spiker’s group offers hot meals once a month at this makeshift camp. They set up a phone charging tent. She says a greater police presence will only encourage migrants to rely more heavily on smugglers. What is needed, she says, is a way for them to legally claim asylum in Britain without getting on a boat.

SPIKER: Do you like it? OKAY OKAY.

BEARDSLEY: The French volunteer Chloe does not want the police to know her last name. She helps drive a van that provides hot showers to the migrants, including some women, children and unaccompanied minors.

CHLOE: (speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: “And we’re bringing music,” she says. “We bring a speaker so they can play the music they want.”


BEARDSLEY: The music brings a smile and a rare moment of relaxation as people move along to the beat.

SAMIULHAQ AYUOBI: I will report all your help to my mother and father.

BEARDSLEY: Afghan lawyer Samiulhaq Ayuobi thanks the volunteers for the joy they bring. He says he had to leave when the Taliban told him that all the laws he defends are against Islam. He hopes to cross to Britain on a raft despite the danger.

Ayuobi: Yes, I know. I know. Everything is dangerous. But we have no other way.

BEARDSLEY: Humanitarian aid worker Pierre Roques says authorities should make the migrants’ lives a little less desperate.

ROQUES: People don’t come to Calais from Afghanistan because you have two more toilets or a heating system, you know? That’s not how it works. This is a narration of fiction from the extreme right.

BEARDSLEY: Aid workers say there is a need for a coordinated Europe-wide approach to migrant arrivals based on humanitarian principles. They say ad hoc measures in migration hotspots like Calais only create crises for populists to exploit. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Calais.

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