Thousands of migrants, refugees from war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, find themselves bottled up at one final choke point in northern France: the entrance to the Channel Tunnel.
LONDON — They have reached Europe after often-treacherous journeys, usually across the Mediterranean. They have dodged the authorities as they made their way north toward their ultimate goal, Britain.
But now, thousands of illegal migrants, refugees from war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, find themselves bottled up at one final choke point in northern France: the entrance to the Channel Tunnel.
Over two nights this week, their desperation and frustration flared to new levels as they tried in far larger numbers than normal to breach the security around the tunnel and hide themselves amid the trucks and freight being shuttled by rail from Calais to southern England.
The French police said there were about 2,100 attempts by migrants to gain access to the tunnel Monday, and Eurotunnel, the company that operates the 31-mile English Channel crossing, put the number for Tuesday night at about 1,500.
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At least one migrant, believed to be a Sudanese man, died in the attempts this week. An unknown number slipped through, authorities said. Most of those who tried were caught and turned back — free, by and large, to try again.
The governments of France and Britain were scrambling to shore up defenses around the tunnel and deal with the latest political and economic reverberations in Europe’s escalating migrant crisis.
The French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, sent 120 additional police officers to Calais on Wednesday and described the city, a port on the English Channel, as “a mirror of the conflicts and crises that are tearing some of the world’s regions apart.”
In London, British ministers and other officials held emergency talks as pressure mounted for a more robust response to a situation that has disrupted trade and tourism and put two of the world’s wealthiest nations at the center of the debate over how to cope with a seemingly unstoppable tide of migrants seeking a better life.
Mattia Toaldo, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said there would “be more of these flashpoints, because the number of migrants is growing, and to much higher numbers than in the past.”
Calais has joined other spots in Europe that are becoming synonymous with the Continent’s inability to halt the flow of migrants into its territory and agree on a way to handle those who make it. They include the islands of Lampedusa in Italy and Lesbos in Greece, where many migrants first land; the fence that Hungary is erecting along its border with Serbia, the latest effort to stop them from migrating north; and towns like Ventimiglia, Italy, on the border with France, where the authorities are making it harder for them to proceed.
“What we are seeing is the result of the European Union not being able to handle the migration crisis in the way that they should,” said Camino Mortera-Martinez, a research fellow at the Center for European Reform, a research institute.
“Everyone is blaming each other for not handling the crisis properly,” she said. “The Italians and Greeks are blaming everyone else for not helping them. France is blaming Italy for giving documents to asylum-seekers, without checking them properly, so they can move on.”
The English Channel is a focus of the broader European crisis because many migrants are trying to travel to Britain, where they believe they will find it easier to secure work. The country also appears more attractive because Britain does not operate an identity-card system and because many migrants speak some English.
Calais is certainly feeling the strain. Eurotunnel said in a statement Wednesday that it had intercepted more than 37,000 migrants since January.
Emmanuel Agius, deputy mayor of Calais, said Wednesday that the city would like help from the United Nations to deal with the migrants, and he called for a summit meeting with the leaders of Britain and France to address the situation.
“The city is continuing to suffer from this issue, economically and tourism-wise,” he said. Like other French officials, he suggested that Britain needed to do more to make itself a less appealing destination and to control the migrant flow on its side of the English Channel.
That sentiment has provoked a political reaction in Britain, where the government’s ability to police its frontiers has been questioned and where frustration with what many see as an insufficient response by France is growing.
On Wednesday, Nigel Farage, leader of the populist, right-wing U.K. Independence Party, said the option of calling in the army to search incoming vehicles should “absolutely” be considered to help resolve a “lawless, scary” situation.
Trucks leaving Britain have been forced to wait hours, and vacationers have also faced significant delays after the surge in efforts by the migrants to cross the Channel, which Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain said was “very concerning.”
“I have every sympathy with holidaymakers who are finding access to Calais difficult because of the disturbances there, and we will do everything we can to work with the French to bring these things to a conclusion,” Cameron said in remarks made from Singapore.
Britain has promised an extra 7 million pounds ($11 million) to help reinforce security on the French side of the Channel, and Cameron was careful not to criticize the French authorities, upon whom the British rely to try to contain the migrant problem.
“There’s no point trying to point fingers of blame,” said Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain. “It’s about working with the French, putting in place these additional security measures.”
About 3,000 migrants have been living in and around Calais, most of them in a camp known as “the jungle,” a squalid staging point for Afghans, Eritreans, Sudanese and other people who have made their way there in the belief that they can get across the Channel. From there, the migrants make regular efforts to get into the terminals where trucks wait for their turn to be loaded onto the rail lines that ferry them under the Channel to Britain, hoping to hide in or under the trucks. The refugee who died this week was said to have been struck by a truck unloading from one of the rail carriers.
While many European Union nations take part in a passport-free travel zone, Britain does not. But the number of daily crossings from France to Britain makes the Channel Tunnel, and ferry ports, difficult to police. Truck drivers have complained of being threatened by groups of immigrants seeking to stow away on their vehicles.
Gilles Debove, a police-union official in northern France, said that until now, there had been only about 60 police officers patrolling the vast complex at night, where the migrants can often be spotted openly climbing over or cutting through security fences.
“The pressure is constant, and the work is redundant: few arrests, just bringing the migrants off-site, only to see them come back several hours later,” Debove said.