UK’s Cameron Under Fire For Migrant ‘Swarm’ Comment

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David Cameron was criticized Thursday for referring to migrants attempting to reach Britain as "swarms of people." Migrants make their way along train tracks as they try to access the Channel Tunnel in Frethun, near Calais, France, on July 30. Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

British Prime Minister David Cameron has come under fire for referring to the hundreds of migrants and refugees trying to enter the U.K. from the French port city of Calais as “swarms of people.”

Tensions in Calais have reached new heights over the past few days, with more than 3,500 attempts to enter the tunnel made this week, the BBC reports. A migrant, believed to be a Sudanese man, died after being hit by a truck as he was trying to board a ferry on Wednesday, The Guardian reports. Since June, nine migrants have died near the channel tunnel.

When asked about the migrants on Thursday, Cameron, who is currently on a trip to Southeast Asia, referred to “a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain.” On Tuesday night, 1,500 people attempted to enter the Eurotunnel terminal.

Cameron also said the U.K. would not become a “safe haven” for migrants after hundreds of people gathered at the tunnel in Calais for a third night. More than 18,000 migrants attempted to reach Britain from Calais between January 1 and May 21, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Labour MP Harriet Harman criticized Cameron’s “divisive” language and said “he should remember he is talking about people and not insects.” Last week, a 20-year-old Eritrean woman died after being hit by a car on a Calais motorway.

The Refugee Council, a U.K.-based nonprofit that works with refugees, said the prime minister should “avoid inflammatory language” and accused him of “misrepresenting the situation.” More than 200,000 people have arrived in Europe after making the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea, most of them refugees fleeing war, conflict and human rights abuses, according to the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR). Violence in Syria, Iraq and South Sudan has exacerbated the flow of refugees in the past year.

Eurotunnel, which manages the link between France and the U.K. that runs underneath the English Channel, said it has “intercepted” more than 37,000 migrants in Calais since January 1 and has doubled the number of security staff to more than 200.

Earlier this month, U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May announced the creation of a secure zone to protect trucks bound for the U.K. from migrants who find their way onto the vehicles. A man, believed to be a Sudanese migrant, was discovered in a Belgian-registered horsebox on Tuesday night, the BBC reports. The vehicle was being unloaded at the All England Jumping Course at Hickstead, West Sussex, where the Longines Royal International Horse Show is taking place. He was handed over to Sussex Police and remains in custody.

Freight traffic between the U.K. and France has been heavily disrupted by attempts to enter the tunnel. Operation Stack, a procedure for trucks to park on Kent’s M20 motorway when tunnel traffic is disrupted, will last into the weekend, according to Kent Police.