Eurotunnel, the group that runs the Channel Tunnel rail line that links Paris to London, has asked the British and French governments for 9.7 million euros ($10.5 million) to help cover the costs it has incurred as a result of the ongoing migrant crisis in the northern port town of Calais.
The money will help the company pay for beefed-up security measures to try and prevent UK-bound migrants from attempting a perilous crossing of the tunnel on foot.
In recent days two migrants have died after attempting to cross the tunnel. The latest occurred on Sunday, when a migrant was found drowned in a four-meter deep reservoir inside the tunnel. Two days earlier, another migrant succumbed in a hospital to burns he experienced after being hit by an electric charge at the tunnel entrance early last week.
"We regret these unfortunate events, and that's why we're asking the governments for more resources," a Eurotunnel spokesperson told VICE News.
The spokesperson noted that the request is not without precedent. In 2007, Eurotunnel was awarded nearly 24 million euros from the French and British government as compensation for a similar migrant situation in 2000 to 2002. The company petitioned the The Hague's Permanent Court of Arbitration, which eventually ruled in its favor. The spokesperson added that the company was "confident" the governments would pay up.
During a report of the company's results for the first-half of 2015, Eurotunnel chairman Jacques Gounonsaid that the company would continue to ensure the tunnel was "sealed off" to migrants attempting to get to the UK. The group also said that it had already spent 13 million euros on security in the past six months — as much as it had in all of 2014.
A migrant climbs onto a truck in order to reach Britain through the Channel Tunnel in Calais, France, June 25, 2015. (Photo by Etienne Laurent/EPA)
A third of the 9.7 million euros being requested will compensate for the loss of income as a result of traffic delays caused by migrant disruptions. The balance will cover the cost of new security equipment, including the purchase of new fencing to seal off the entrance to the tunnel.
When VICE News asked what security measures were currently in place in and around the tunnel, Eurotunnel responded that the company doesn't disclose such details.
In December 2014, however, the tunnel's former head of security told French daily La Voix du Nord that the safety features included 57 kilometers of fencing that were constantly monitored by 650 security cameras and eight canine teams.
"This is a very busy time," Emma Dubreu, who works at the Jules Ferry migrant drop-in center, told VICE News. The government-run day center provides migrants in Calais with meals, a place to wash, and access to a variety of basic services. Dubreu described summer in Calais as "the moment where everything reaches the tipping point" — a reference to the number of migrants and the severity of the situation.
According to the British police, there are currently 5,000 migrants living in Calais.
Seven migrants have died in Calais since the start of June — an average of one death every week. As well as attempting to get into Britain through the Eurotunnel, migrants hoping to reach England often stow away in UK-bound trucks that cross the English Channel via ferries.
In early July, an Eritrean woman who was five and a half months pregnant fell from a truck on which she had hidden. The fall killed her unborn child. Around the same time, two other migrants died after being hit by vehicles on the highway.
While Dubreu admitted that progress had been made — including the installation of water points and lighting around the migrant camps — she said she was concerned about the influx of migrants over the last few days.
"What is most striking is that there are more and more women and very young migrants," she said.
Meanwhile, disgruntled workers from passenger and freight ferry company MyFerryLink have been striking in a dispute over potential job losses. The workers have been intermittently blocking the port in Calais. On Tuesday, they blocked the entrance to the Eurotunnel for two hours.
MyFerryLink workers block the A16 highway leading to the Channel Tunnel on Tuesday.
According to Dubreu, migrants have taken advantage of the protests to reach the UK.
"Nearly 800 migrants were able to reach England," she said. According to Dubreu, the mass flight was encouraged by the "lack of police officers around the tunnel because they were busy dealing with protesters."