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Migrants In French Camp Near English Channel Attempt To Get Into Britain


Now, another major challenge for European governments is handling a flood of people arriving from Africa and the Middle East seeking a better life. They're escaping violence and poverty, arriving in southern Europe by sea or land. But many then want to head north to more prosperous countries. And thousands have made their way to France's northern coast. They are camped out right now in squalid conditions. We reached NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, who described the scene where migrants are desperate to cross into Britain.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: I'm sitting in a trash-strewn field that is right by the main road that leads into the English Channel tunnel. And in front of me are just lines of trucks because there's been a port strike and a fire in the Channel Tunnel. So that's really slowed traffic down. There's just rigs of trucks here. And the truckers are standing out, watching their rigs very closely because there are migrants stalking around all the trucks. You know what? I just - I just watched a migrant go up to the back of a truck and the truck drivers come out and chased him down. There's some police out here now. But there's a whole group of migrants. They've just jumped up on a truck. They're on truck. And is the truck moving now?

BEARDSLEY: The truck is at a slow crawl because there's lines here. This is the problem. They used to jump these trucks at night. But the slow traffic has now brought them out in the middle of the day. And they're - you can just see them trying to jump on the trucks or get under and ride on the axles.

GREENE: So they're literally trying to just jump on trucks and basically catch a ride through the tunnel, and hope that the...

BEARDSLEY: Absolutely. David, this Syrian guy, he said you jump to the top. And you slit it open, and you get down inside the truck. And I said, is it difficult? He said, no, it's not so difficult. His whole family was killed in a bombing in Aleppo. And he's here trying to get on a truck. He has really nothing left to lose. And he says it's not so hard to do so. So that's the scene I'm at this morning.

GREENE: You mentioned someone like that man, who had seen such horror, gets to Europe. I mean, why not stop in a country like France? What's the pull of Britain?

BEARDSLEY: Right. Well, he spoke English. He felt that there was a better - there were better job opportunities in England. And there's also a rumor here that England gives better benefits. So people think that if they apply for asylum there, they're going to have a place to live. And actually, it's Sweden and Germany who are taking most of the asylum-seekers. But, you know, once the migrants get into Europe, fortress Europe, they go different places. And there are different reasons to go to different countries. But there is a bottleneck of about 4,000 people here camped out, as you said, in Calais, trying to get into Britain.

GREENE: And Eleanor, there are European Union leaders who are getting together in Brussels, who are continuing to try to figure out how to deal with this migrant crisis. I mean, what are some of the things that they're considering?

BEARDSLEY: There's an idea to have quotas. And each country would take a certain quota. But it's not a popular idea. Poorer EU members in Eastern Europe, they don't want the migrants. And Hungary is even building a wall right now against migrants that would try to come in. So there's got to be a way to ease the burden on the southern states on the fringes of Europe. And they've got to come to some agreement on how to divide up these migrants.

GREENE: OK, that's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, who is in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are camped out trying to reach Britain. Eleanor, thanks very much.

BEARDSLEY: Great to be with you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
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