Hundreds of Eurostar passengers stranded as migrants throng tracks
Hundreds of passengers were left stranded in northern France overnight Tuesday to Wednesday after their Eurostar to London was stopped in its tracks by migrants who are thought to have climbed onto the roof of the train.
The train from Paris slowed to a halt on Tuesday night as it was about to enter the Channel Tunnel and police arrived on the scene, including with a helicopter overhead, witnesses said, in a bid to stop migrants who had got onto the tracks from going further.
The disruptions forced several other Eurostar trains that were on their way to London or Paris to turn back, and two trains were cancelled on Wednesday to deal with the backlog of passengers that had built up.
The disruptions were due to “the presence of intruders on the tracks at the French entrance to the tunnel,” a Eurostar spokeswoman said.
Clothilde, a 23-year-old Frenchwoman who lives in London and was on board the train, said they were stuck next to the tunnel for around four hours on Tuesday.
“Police were hurrying down the train,” she said.
“We did not see the migrants, but we knew that they were everywhere on the roof, and that’s why we waited for a helicopter to make sure there were no more migrants above us.”
Simon Gentry, another passenger on the train, tweeted on Tuesday: “Been asked to ‘listen out for people walking on the roof’ while we wait for the police.”
The train was later towed back to the station nearest to the port of Calais, where thousands of migrants and refugees living in slum-like conditions have made regular attempts to cross the tunnel to Britain.
Eurostar was unable to say exactly how many passengers were on board the train, but the trains carry a maximum of 750 people.
The passengers — who were given emergency foil blankets — were forced to camp out on the station platforms until Wednesday morning, when another train arrived to take them to London.
– No ‘crossing’ –
This is not the first time that cross-Channel train services have been disrupted as migrants and refugees make increasingly dangerous bids to enter the tunnel to reach Britain.
At least nine people have died trying to cross the small stretch of sea separating France and Britain, prompting both countries to announce emergency measures to deal with the crisis.
London is spending more than 14 million euros ($16 million) to help France secure the Channel Tunnel site on its side, while the European Union will provide five million euros to help Paris manage the crisis.
“We have significantly reduced the number of intrusions (into the Channel Tunnel),” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Wednesday.
“Our aim is to reduce them to zero, and to let it be understood, particularly where traffickers are concerned… that there cannot be any crossing,” he told Europe 1 radio.
But Calais is only a footnote in the ever-growing efforts to manage the biggest movement of people since World War II, with more than 300,000 arriving in Europe this year thanks largely to a rash of conflicts in the Middle East.