Brussels said on Tuesday (4 August) it was ready to help France and Britain deal with the migrant crisis at the Channel Tunnel, as police on both sides braced for new attempts at the crossing.
The European Commission said in a statement that it would send a first instalment of financial assistance to France of €20 million, less than a day after some 600 fresh attempts were made to penetrate the tunnel, according to a police source.
The situation in the northern French port of Calais has hit the headlines in the past week, with people desperate to reach Britain making attempt after attempt to breach Eurotunnel defences, some paying for it with their lives.
Last week, a Sudanese man in his 30s died, apparently crushed to death by a lorry, and at least 10 people have been killed since June trying to get to Britain where many already have family and work is perceived as easier to find.
The Migration and Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said the first instalment of a special grant would now be sent to help Paris deal with its side of the crisis.
Britain has already received €27 million.
“This comes from the total of over €266 million earmarked for France and over €370 million earmarked for the UK for the period covering 2014-20,” Avramopoulos said in a statement.
The Commission also offered the two countries its technical assistance, including help to process asylum applications through a support office.
“The European Borders Agency, Frontex, can help identify and register migrants, collaborate with countries of origin and transit to speed up the issuing of travel documents for return, and coordinate and finance joint return operations,” it added.
A police source said earlier Tuesday some 500 migrants had been seen overnight next to the Channel Tunnel site near Calais, and of the 600 attempts they made to enter, around 400 were repelled by authorities.
Of the other 200 people, 180 were caught within the site and removed and a further 20 were arrested.
Eurotunnel, which operates the Channel Tunnel, was also inspecting a section of one of the undersea tunnels for an “anomaly” that was causing delays earlier Tuesday, the group said, though traffic returned to normal later in the day.
The crisis in Calais has become a cross-Channel political hot potato and has seen French police bolster their presence in Calais with 120 additional officers.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose government on Monday announced new measures to crack down on illegal immigrants, came under fire last week for comments in which he referred to “swarms” of people seeking to get into the country.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, meanwhile, has urged Britain to do more to help with the crisis.
But commissioner Avramopoulos warned the Calais crisis is “another stark example of the need for a greater level of solidarity and responsibility in the way we deal with migratory pressures in Europe”.
“We are facing a migratory crisis of extraordinary proportions that is very much linked to the conflicts occurring in the wider periphery of Europe,” he said.
“We must act in a united way to address a challenge that surpasses national boundaries,” he added.