Seeking refuge in UK, migrants get stuck in Calais

The French port of Calais has been inundated with thousands of migrants seeking ways to reach the United Kingdom. Blocked from transportation across the English Channel, the migrants have established a squalid camp, while residents of Calais feel the crisis is hurting the town. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

Read the Full Transcript


    But, first, the European Union today appealed to its member states to live up to the financial pledges made to Greece and Hungary to assist with some of the nearly 225,000 refugees and migrants who this year alone have left upheaval in Africa, in the Middle East and Southwest Asia to try to reach Europe.

    In the north, near the English Channel, several thousand people are camped out, many hoping to pass from France to England. The British government says taking in the displaced people will only encourage more to come. But just today, it was reported that a 40-year-old Sudanese man managed to evade elaborate security and walked almost the entire dangerous 31-mile length of the underwater Channel Tunnel before he was arrested.

    NewsHour special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports tonight from the French port of Calais.


    Under British pressure, reinforcements, the French riot police have been sent to Calais to try thwart the migrants on the final leg of their odyssey, among them, a man fleeing the Syrian civil war who didn't want to be identified.

  • MAN:

    Police closed the border. So, we try go to train, but the police is big people. They're like animals. We don't like it. They're not behaved police. They told me you have to go back. I go back and try again, but it's very hard to go. We need a solution. I don't know what we're going to do here. We don't like to stay in France.


    Additional measures designed to beef up security at the Eurotunnel carrying trains between France and England appear to be working, according to the British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond.

  • PHILIP HAMMOND, British Foreign Secretary:

    I think we have a grip on the crisis. We saw a peak last week since when the illegal migrants has tailed off. We have taken a number of measures in collaboration with the French authorities and Eurotunnel.


    As a result there's increasing frustration among migrants. They have established a squalid camp in the sand dunes called the Jungle. It's a launch pad for thousands of dreams that failed to fly.

    Having risked his life crossing the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean, Tasbe Tasbasalasi is dismayed at the conditions. A reluctant conscript in the Eritrean army, this computer expert fled the Horn of Africa country whose government has been accused of widespread human rights abuses.


    We considered Europe as the heaven of the earth, but it was not just like that. I really didn't expect the places that we are living here to be like this. I'm trying to go to the train. But it's very difficult for me. I'm being here in order to go to England. But it's very difficult. But everybody who is living here has his or her own ambition.


    Why should England allow you to come into the country?


    My dream is to go to England. When I compare — for example, when I compare England with Germany, England is comfortable for me.


    Calais used to have a Red Cross refugee camp, but it was closed in 2002 after Britain protested that it was encouraging illegal immigration.

    The problem has never gone away. And at city hall, there is irritation from Deputy Mayor Philippe Mignonet that Britain is calling the shots.

  • PHILIPPE MIGNONET, Deputy Mayor:

    We really are desperate because it's killing the image of the city more so than ever. It's killing the economy of the city as well. We all know they want to go to England. Whether they are right or wrong, whether benefits in England are right or wrong, it's not a problem. They want to go to England.

    This is where we must have in Calais a summit between France and England involving the city of Calais, because at the moment, the ministers are talking with each other, but where is the city of Calais in that?


    Now, if the European Union law on asylum seekers and refugees was being applied properly, France would take many of these people in, or it would return them to the first European country where they landed.

    But this is not happening. The Conservative government in London believes that many of these people are attracted to the United Kingdom's generous welfare benefits. And they have started the process of reducing the amount of money available. And according to Britain's immigration minister, he says the current system shouldn't offer what he calls any perverse incentives for illegal migrants to lodge spurious asylum applications or encourage those without genuine claims for humanitarian protection to prolong their stay in the United Kingdom.

  • TIM FARRON, Liberal Democrats:

    The majority of people they see are not economic migrants. They are probably fleeing insecurity of one kind or another.


    The most senior British politician to visit the Jungle has been Tim Farron of the Liberal Democrats. Once, as part of the governing coalition, the party could soften British policy. Now, in opposition, it can only roar.


    It seems to me that the approach of the U.K. Conservative government is about being confrontational on two levels, first of all, confrontational towards the desperate people here, and then also confrontational towards our colleagues throughout the rest of Europe, many of whom now look at the United Kingdom as being just unnecessarily belligerent, not a team player, and indeed exacerbating this crisis.

    My attitude is to work with others to try and find long-term solutions and to treat these people here like human beings.


    But isn't the problem that, if you start opening the floodgates, as the Conservatives would see it, what you're going to do is you're going to encourage even more people in the rest of the world to head in this direction?


    So, first of all, I'm not arguing to open the floodgates at all. I'm arguing for us to sign up to the European concord that we would be taking our fair share, a few hundred from across the European Union.

  • WOMAN:

    I don't know.


    In recognition that many migrants won't make it to Britain, there is a school teaching French to those considering seeking political asylum here. Its founder is an exuberant Nigerian called Zimarco Jones.

  • ZIMARCO JONES, School Founder:

    If I went to Japan today, I would try to go to school to learn Japanese language. It's something everywhere to do. You need to speak the language.

    My dream is to change this camp. I want to make something different in this Jungle to show people that we are not what they are thinking. For example, they say Jungle. In jungle — animal is living in the jungle. We — we don't live in a jungle here.


    Throughout the camp, there are the reminders of the perils of jumping on trains or trucks. Ten people have been killed since June. The risk is a major incentive to remain in France.

  • MAN:

    Over there, I say to myself, I want to go there, but I really can't chance to go there. To see my friends, they are dying and they are cutting their hands and fingers.


    For nearly 1,000 years, the narrow English Channel has protected Britain from invasion. Migrants face the same obstacles that defeated great armies. The refugee influx is perhaps Europe's biggest crisis of the decade.

    And Calais port boss Jean-Marc Puissesseau wants to see a change in Western foreign policy.


    The wars which has been done has increased the number of refugees coming to Europe. I think we should take care to help more of the countries which are difficulties — as the Sudan, as Eritrea, which belongs to Iraq and to Syria, is something much more difficult.


    Another day in the Jungle dawns with devotions at a church from tarpaulins by African Christians. They're seeking intervention.

    For their prayers to be answered, Britain must soften its stance. And at the moment, there is no sign of compromise across the Channel.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Malcolm Brabant in Calais.

Listen to this Segment