© 2024 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Migrants cross the English Channel to reach Britain despite an agreement between the U.K. and France


Migrants have been making their way across Africa and Europe to the northern French coast for years now. The goal is to enter Britain, where they believe they have a better chance of getting asylum and work. Heightened security around the Channel Tunnel pushed migrants to cross and boats and rafts. Now there is a new agreement between the French and British governments to further crack down on migration. Aid workers say it's not solving the problem. Here's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.

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 coming. The muddy encampments are just smaller and scattered.

You see places where people have been cooking in their shoes everywhere and garbage bags full of old clothes and packs of milk empty, all the things that migrants have discarded probably over the last 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 safety. And wars. Always we, you know, face attack from neighbors and from the others, like robbers.

BEARDSLEY: Those robbers, the Janjaweed militia that have terrorized Darfur. Before he fled a year ago, Eissel was in management school. Now he's ready to pay up to 2,500 euros to smugglers for a slot in an overcrowded raft and the chance to reach Britain.

PIERRE ROQUES: What we can, like, see is people are desperate. They have bad welcome everywhere else, so it's kind of like the last chance, the last resort, the U.K.

BEARDSLEY: That's Pierre Roques, with the aid group Auberge des Migrants. He says there's a constant cat-and-mouse game along the French coast - migrants trying to avoid police, who are trying to enforce rules against migrants establishing permanent bases.

ROQUES: The police arrive on the camps - people have to move their tents, like, some hundred meters, and if they are not there, the police - they take their personal stuff. They confiscate it, and - but it's almost impossible to get it back, and it's broken in the process.

BEARDSLEY: Roques calls this a humanitarian crisis but says the French and British governments are treating it like a security problem. A recent deal has Britain paying France $75 million over the next year to beef up police patrols along the coast, but that won't keep people from coming here, says Andrea Spiker, an aid worker with organization Stand by You.

ANDREA SPIKER: No, because they don't want to stay here. They are just here to leave. They're coming here because this is the shortest way on the sea to U.K.

BEARDSLEY: Spiker's group offers hot meals once a month in this makeshift camp. They've set up a phone charging tent. She says increased police presence will only push the migrants to depend more heavily on smugglers. What's needed, she says, is a way for them to apply for asylum in Britain legally without getting on a boat.

SPIKER: It's OK for you? OK, OK.

BEARDSLEY: French volunteer Chloe doesn't want police to know her last name. She helps operate a van offering hot showers to the migrants, which include a few women, children and unaccompanied minors.

CHLOE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "And we bring music," she says. "We bring a speaker, so they play the music they want."


BEARDSLEY: The music brings smiles and a rare moment of relaxation as people sway to the rhythm.

SAMIULHAQ AYUOBI: I will report all of your helping 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 all the laws he defends are against Islam. He hopes to cross to Britain in a raft despite the danger.

AYUOBI: Yeah, I know. I know. Everything is dangerous. But we don't have any other way.

BEARDSLEY: Humanitarian worker Pierre Roques says authorities should be making the migrants' lives a little less desperate.

ROQUES: People are not going to come in Calais from Afghanistan because you have two more toilets or, like, some more heating system, you know? It doesn't work like this. This is a narrative of fiction from the far right.

BEARDSLEY: Aid workers say what's needed is a coordinated Europe-wide approach to migrant arrivals based on humanitarian principles. They say ad hoc measures at migration hotspots like Calais only create crises that populists can exploit. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Calais. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.