Europe’s current migration crisis collided head-on with passenger and tourist travel yesterday as travellers were trapped for five hours in the dark on a Eurostar train which stopped because of migrants on the tracks and on the roof.
The delays affected travel in both directions. Angry France-bound travellers found themselves offloaded back at St Pancras station when Eurostar services were forced to turn back to London.
Passengers threatened to “smash the windows” on a Paris-London Eurostar stuck overnight in stifling heat in the Channel Tunnel with 750 passengers aboard, Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported.
French passenger Frédéric Bruel told France Info radio the train was stopped at around 9.30pm near the French side of the tunnel. Nobody could leave the train.
“Little by little the situation deteriorated. The train ended up running out of batteries, so there was no air conditioning, and then after two more hours no more communication as the audio system was out of service. We then spent an unbelievable amount of time in the dark, in an air that was hard to breathe.”
The train temperature built up to about 35C, with people “screaming and threatening to smash the windows,” Bruel said.
He said the doors shut mechanically and were then impossible to open. Passengers became terrified at the possibility of fire.
Another French passenger told Le Monde: “We didn’t see any migrants but we knew they were everywhere on the roof and that’s why we had to wait for a helicopter to come to check none were above us.”
A British passenger told ITV: “It was just disgusting. I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life. The worst thing was that there was no communication whatsoever.”
A regional spokesman for French national rail operator SNCF, said: “Some people invaded the tracks, which led to a slowdown of a train at the tunnel entrance on the French side.”
“Once the train had stopped, security forces intervened to evacuate [the area] and this meant the Eurostar that was on the line to London was stuck, and we had to cut the electricity for security reasons. The area was freed [of migrants] by around 1.30am.”
Hundreds more migrants are camped around the French side of the English Channel trying to get into Britain by any means, usually by stowing away on trucks or trains. They come from Syria, Iraq, Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh. France and the EU are powerless to arrest or deport them.
As large numbers of people walk or sail into Europe without papers, countries are tightening borders and the ‘Schengen zone’ system of passport-free European travel is threatening to break down. See: Cornerstone of touring Europe comes under severe threat
At one point yesterday, Italy was reported to have re-imposed border controls. The EU was trying to get confirmation of the situation.
MEANWHILE, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) updated its advisory on Hungary yesterday as hundreds of migrants remained camped defiantly outside Budapest’s main international railway station. Finally the migrants were allowed to board a train which has now stopped about 30km away. The government wants the migrants to register in Hungary, as required by EU law. The migrants are refusing because they want to travel to Germany and feel that registering might mean they have to stay in Hungary.
“There has been a significant influx of irregular migrants into Hungary. Police have been deployed to prevent irregular migrants entering Budapest’s main rail station, Keleti train station. If travelling by train arrive in plenty of time, remain vigilant, follow the instructions of local authorities, and monitor local media for developments which could affect your safety, particularly at Keleti train station. Australians travelling across the Hungarian border, either by road or rail, should expect delays.”
Most of the migrants entered from Serbia after circumventing or cutting their way through the razor wire Hungarian troops had laid along the border to prevent their entry. More than 130,000 people have poured into Hungary so far this year, many having destroyed their papers so the authorities have no way of determining where they come from.
The situation in Europe seems unlikely to settle anytime soon. The army of “irregular migrants” continues to enter Europe, primarily through Greece and Italy, without much hindrance from authorities, though there are many dangers on the journey.
Reports suggest millions more could be planning to follow. Europe is divided on how to deal with the situation and some politicians say the EU itself could eventually founder over the issue.
Written by Peter Needham