LONDON – 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 U.K. from the northern French port of Calais.
Home Office Minister Robert Goodwill announced this week that a one kilometer-long (0.6 mile-long) barrier will be built as part of a 17 million pound ($23 million) security package agreed to by Britain and France. He told lawmakers on Tuesday that its construction along the main highway to the port would start “very soon.”
“We’ve done the fence, now we are doing a wall,” he said.
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.
Thousands of the migrants live in an overcrowded Calais camp known as “the jungle,” which French authorities have vowed to dismantle.
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.
British opposition politicians also criticized the plan, which will cost British taxpayers an estimated two million pounds.
Scottish National Party lawmaker Angus Robertson said Prime Minister Theresa May should be “totally ashamed” of a proposal that echoed presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call for a vast wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.