Construction on 4-meter high concrete barrier to begin this month, as Europe struggles with biggest influx in decades
LONDON, United Kingdom — Britain hopes a four-meter high (13 foot-high) concrete wall will succeed where security guards and barbed wire have failed, and stop migrants reaching the UK from the northern French port of Calais.
Construction for the barrier will begin this month and should be completed by the end of this year, officials said.
The wall, which will be funded by the British government under an agreement struck at a summit in March, will complement a security fence already put up around the port and entrance to the Channel Tunnel.
“We are going to start building this big new wall very soon. We’ve done the fence, now we are doing a wall,” Home Office Minister Robert Goodwill told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday.
Calais, known as “the jungle,” a squalid camp of tents and makeshift shelters, is home to some 7,000 migrants but charities say the number might be as high as 10,000 after an influx this summer.
The wall, which is expected to cost 2.7 million euros ($3.0 million), will be the latest barrier to go up around Europe as the Continent struggles with its biggest migrant influx in decades.
Thousands of people, most from the Middle East and Africa, have made long and dangerous journeys to Calais, crossing the Mediterranean to southern Europe in overcrowded boats and then traveling hundreds of miles by foot, car or rail to northwest France.
Demonstrators hold French flags as truckers block the highway near Calais, northern France, Monday Sept. 5, 2016. (AP/Thibault Camus)
For many, the goal is to reach Britain — attractive because of its English language and relatively open labor market — by stowing away on trucks and trains through the Channel Tunnel.
Migrants make regular attempts to walk through the tunnel — used by passenger trains and vehicle shuttles — or to block roads in an attempt to slow down trucks so they can climb aboard.
To stop people sneaking into Britain, blocking traffic and risking lives, authorities have poured in police officers and built high barbed-wire fences to keep people away from Eurotunnel freight trains, the port and the highway.
But desperate migrants are using increasingly dangerous tactics to slow trucks and hitch a ride. Aid group Auberge des Migrants says 11 migrants have died this year — seven on the highways.
On Monday, truckers, farmers, dock workers and merchants blocked a main access road to protest the disruption, as well as the fines they face if caught carrying stowaways.
But truckers’ groups were cool to the idea of a wall. Richard Burnett, chief executive of Britain’s Road Haulage Association, said the money “would be much better spent on increasing security along the approach roads.”
Vikki Woodfine of law firm DWF, who works with trucking companies, said the wall “is simply a knee-jerk reaction that is unlikely to make a difference in the long run.”
Migrants “are increasingly desperate to cross the border and will undoubtedly find a way past it, pushing the death toll even higher in the process,” Woodfine said.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas called the wall “monstrous” while campaign group Citizens UK asked Britain to use the money instead to transfer child migrants with families in Britain from Calais.