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Migrant death in Channel Tunnel highlights UK security crisis

(Agencies) Updated: 2015-07-29 17:55

Migrant death in Channel Tunnel highlights UK security crisis

A TGV high speed train passes behind razor-wire fencing close to the Channel Tunnel site on which a sweat shirt is stretched over the barbs to protect asylum seekers who climb over the fence in Calais, northern France, July 29, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

LONDON/PARIS - A migrant died trying to cross to Britain from France early on Wednesday, French police said, adding to a number of recent deaths in the Channel Tunnel as British ministers and security chiefs were to meet over the crisis in Calais.

Freight and passenger traffic through the rail tunnel has been severely disrupted in recent weeks as large numbers of migrants camped out in the Calais area have tried to board lorries and trains travelling from France to Britain.

The situation has turned into a blame game with Eurotunnel asking French and British governments to reimburse it for close to 10 million euros ($11 million) it spent to beef up security to cope with the migrant crisis at Calais.

The Sudanese man who died on Wednesday was probably hit by a lorry exiting one of the shuttles that transport vehicles through the tunnel, French police said. French media said he was the ninth migrant to die in the tunnel since early June.

There were about 1,500 attempts by migrants to access the tunnel on Tuesday night, a Eurotunnel spokesman said, after 2,000 attempts the previous night.

In a July 23 letter sent by French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve to Eurotunnel boss Jacques Gounon and seen by Reuters, Cazeneuve accused Eurotunnel of not doing enough to ensure Tunnel security "given the worsening situation".

Eurotunnel had notably cut to 103 from 325 in 2002 the number of security agents on the site, he said.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Eurotunnel gave a different set of numbers, saying it had in fact doubled its security staff to close to 200 people since the start of the migrant crisis in the early 2000s and had spent a total of over 160 million euros on security during that time.

"The nightly pressure is more than what a concession-holder can reasonably handle," it said, calling on Britain and France to act.

Cazeneuve and his British counterpart Theresa May met on Tuesday to discuss the crisis, and May was due to chair a meeting of the government's emergency "Cobra" committee in London later on Wednesday.

Britain has agreed up to 7 million pounds ($10.9 million) of extra funding to help increase security at the tunnel's French terminal at Coquelles, officials said.

British authorities said they had agreed with the French to work together on returning the migrants to their countries of origin, particularly in West Africa, although no details were given about how this would work.

The crisis at Calais has had a knock-on effect on road traffic on the British side and caused huge delays for freight lorries as well as holidaymakers trying to reach the continent.

Some sections of the British media and some politicians have criticised France's handling of the crisis, though the government has stressed the importance of cooperation.

"There's no point trying to point fingers ... of blame," British Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters during a visit to Singapore, adding he was "very concerned" about events in Calais.

"It's about working with the French, putting in place these additional security measures, adding in the investment where that's needed.... We know how important this is," he said.

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