Driver dies in Calais crash as migrants return to unwelcoming region

Van hits barrier and catches fire, as aid bodies face growing hostility to migrants

A rescue team work  near the wreckage of a burnt-out van following a crash on the A16 motorway, near Calais, northern France on Tuesday. The driver was killed. Photograph: Guy Drollet/EPA

A rescue team work near the wreckage of a burnt-out van following a crash on the A16 motorway, near Calais, northern France on Tuesday. The driver was killed. Photograph: Guy Drollet/EPA

 

A Polish van driver became the first motorist to die as a result of the Calais migrant crisis, when his vehicle crashed into a heavy lorry stopped at a makeshift barricade on the A16 motorway early on Tuesday.

French authorities dismantled the Calais “Jungle” last October. Its inhabitants slipped away or were transported to “welcome centres” around France. Between 500 and 600 migrants have returned, in the hope of reaching England.

Migrants strew branches, tree trunks, mattresses, rubbish bins and other debris on the approaches to the Channel Tunnel, to force traffic to stop so they can stow away in cargo trailers.

With the return of the migrants, barricades have reappeared five times in the past three weeks, according to the prefecture.

The Polish van driver crashed into a heavy lorry stopped at a barrier at Guemps, 15km from Calais, at about 3.45am on Tuesday. The van caught fire and the driver’s body was so badly burned that he could not be identified.

Nine Eritreans discovered in a blocked lorry will be prosecuted for manslaughter and for endangering the lives of others.

Thirty-two migrants from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Sudan have met violent deaths in the Calais region in the last two years, according to the investigative website Mediapart. They have been crushed by trains and vehicles, drowned and electrocuted. They ranged in age from 15 to 54, and included three women.

On June 19th, a 27-year-old migrant was badly burned when he was electrocuted on the roof of a train on the French-Italian border. He is hospitalised in Toulon. The railway company SNCF says four people have died by electrocution and two others have been injured between Vintimille and Cannes this year.

Rights appeal

The independent rights defender Jacques Toubon, a former justice minister, appealed to the government on June 14th to “stop obstinately denying the existence of the exiles” and “end attacks on (their) most basic fundamental rights, in particular those of minors”.

During his election campaign, President Emmanuel Macron implied he would be more sympathetic to migrants. He has not spoken of the issue since his election.

“The determination not to see any more migrants in Calais has led to a situation where no shelter is tolerated,” Mr Toubon said. “People sleep on the ground . . . They say they are hunted down day and night in woods outside the town. The migrants can no longer sleep, or even rest . . . They are visibly in a state of physical and mental exhaustion.”

All public water taps have been shut off. “The migrants cannot wash, or even drink,” Mr Toubon reported. “Being able to wash and drink water is their main demand.” Toubon was particularly concerned about women migrants who “risk being raped or sexually exploited”.

The prefecture says it is determined to avoid “the reappearance of permanent encampments, both in the interest of the Calais population and the migrants themselves, who risk their lives when they attempt to enter Great Britain illegally”.

Aid organisations who are trying to fill the vacuum left by French authorities, by providing showers, meals, water and legal advice, “are hampered and threatened”, Mr Toubon said.

For example, aid workers are threatened with prosecution for abetting illegal residence. The Auberge des Migrants was told its kitchen did not meet government standards. At the beginning of May, the Secours Catholique was ordered to close the showers it had installed in the courtyard of its building.

In March, the town hall banned the distribution of meals in the Calais industrial zone, calling them “illegal gatherings”. On May 31st, midday distribution of food and water was forbidden.

The Saint-Joseph parish priest defied authorities by offering his garden for the distribution of food and water. “These people have escaped death,” he told Europe 1 radio. “If for no other reason, it seems to me they deserve to be respected and welcomed.”

Eleven aid organisations, including l’Auberge des Migrants, Care4Calais, Help Refugees, Salam, Secours Catholique-Caritas France and the Human Rights League, filed a lawsuit with the Lille administrative tribunal on June 16th. They demand a place where they can provide food, showers and legal advice, and which migrants could visit without fear of police harassment.

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