Construction work begins on Great Wall of Calais

The wall is meant to prevent migrants in northern France from trying to reach the UK.

Security agents escort migrants after their intrusion in the Eurotunnel site in Coquelles, northern France, on 3 October, 2015. Picture: AFP.

LONDON - Construction work has begun on the so-called Great Wall of Calais to prevent migrants in northern France trying to reach the UK.

It's estimated that up to 10,000 mainly north Africans are living in a makeshift camp near the Channel Tunnel entrance connecting the UK to France hoping to cross in to Britain as stowaways on lorries.

The four metre high barrier running for one kilometre along both sides of the main road to the port of Calais is being paid for by the UK.

The British government has refused to confirm the cost but it's thought to be about R40m. The situation facing lorry drivers in Calais has become untenable.

Migrants have been blocking the road with burning barricades to make vehicles heading to the port stop.

People smugglers then organise migrants trying to reach the UK to stowaway on the lorries.

Critics say it will simply move the tactic further away from the tunnel entrance.

Last week, Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill told lawmakers that security was being stepped up in Calais, home to the "Jungle" camp where thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa hope to cross the English Channel to Britain.

The camp and a Franco-British border control deal that effectively pushes the British frontier onto mainland France have been hotly debated since Britons voted in a June referendum to leave the European Union.

Goodwill said the wall was part of a £17 million package of security measures agreed by Britain and France in March.

"We are going to start building this big new wall as part of the £17 million package that we are doing with the French ... We've done the fence and now we're doing the wall," Goodwill said on Tuesday.

Shrubbery has already been cleared on one side of the Rocade road but there was no sign of workers or machinery at the site on Wednesday. A local official said the project would be completed by the end of the year.

A document shown at a public meeting organised by the Port of Calais on 6 July showed the wall would be made of smooth concrete to make it harder to scale, but lined with plants and vegetation on the inside to minimise the visual impact.

France dismantled the southern half of the "Jungle" camp in February and March and the government said last week it would shut down the rest, but gave no timeframe.

Additional information by Reuters