Just how dangerous is it for lorry drivers at calais?

26th April 2016

The Calais problem is not new but nowadays drivers moving lorries over the channel encounter violence and theft on a daily basis. Is enough being done to protect these drivers?

We import fresh produce from Italy and Spain on refrigerated trucks and to get to the UK they pass through Calais, either via the port or the Eurotunnel. Since last Spring Calais has been a buzzword for problems and we have daily conversations with our drivers about Calais, the delays it is creating and the dangers they are facing as they move through it.

Calais has been home to various camps of migrants since the 1990’s. Although the French government estimates the number of people living in the so called ‘Jungle’ camp at 3,000 a census carried out by Help Refugees in February of this year puts the number at 5497.  The inhabitants of these camps represent a huge humanitarian crisis for our planet. They are fleeing war torn countries, poverty and other situations so bad that they would rather live in the squalid and dangerous conditions these camps provide than stay in their home towns. Calais has become a focal point for this crisis in Europe as migrants gather here to attempt a channel crossing to get into the UK.

In the spring of 2015 port workers at Calais went on strike due to a change in the terms and conditions of their contracts after a Danish company bought two boats from Eurotunnel. This created huge queues of lorries bought to a standstill outside Calais which meant where refugees were used to attempting to illegally board lorries in the dead of night as drivers slept suddenly found their route to escape was a sitting duck in broad daylight. The tensions bubbling in the port of Calais overflowed.

Thousands of lorries were attacked both at the Eurotunnel and at the port. The queues, controls and problems went up for days and the cost to the UK economy in terms of the wasted perishable goods caught up in the chaos was estimated at £250 million a day in the press (the actual figures was probably a lot less and most goods were just delayed not written off). The disruption continued throughout the summer with further union protests and an increased incidence of migrants attempting to stop and hijack lorries and enter the Eurotunnel.

Although trucks are now moving reasonably normally through Calais and the media focus has moved on it is still a difficult and dangerous world for truck drivers to work in. Our drivers report seeing migrants jump from bridges onto curtain sider trucks and then start cutting the curtains with knives to get in. They have also had their mirrors closed so that they can’t see the back of their trucks and the people trying to enter the truck. Drivers have also watched refugees throw themselves at moving trains and one reported seeing 14 migrants in a truck with the fridge set at minus 18 C. Two French drivers were recently badly hurt at a motorway service and the government now advises not stopping at services within twenty miles from Calais. Mick Young’s horrific experience in March 2016 has been widely covered and was extremely shocking. There are many videos filmed by truck drivers on youtube as they try to band together and create a community feel online for sharing their experiences and fear. These people are so desperate to find themselves a new life that they will stop at nothing to try and move on from the camps and get to the UK. They are not going to let lorry drivers stand in their way.

The satirical news review program ‘Le Iene’ in Italy recently sent someone out to sit with drivers during a night at the large parking lot for trucks near Calais. A UK truck driver reported migrants wielding machetes and Stanley knives climbing into lorry cabins and forcing drivers out. The journalist himself managed to film three migrants climbing on top of a pallet in a refridgerated lorry after entering it unbeknownst to the driver. They filmed very little police presence in the parking area. They found an Italian driver who had been driving through Calais for years and who slept very little during his nightly breaks due to protecting his lorry and his private property such as his phone and camera. Hardly a road safety fairy tale. This driver explained to the journalist that within the camps a mafia exists and it is this mafia that runs the human trafficking rings. The traffickers come to an agreement with a lorry driver to safely stow away immigrants and release them in the UK. They then sell these places to the immigrants for up to £8,000 apiece. The immigrants hide the money somewhere, board the lorry and then release the money to the camp mafia via a phone call once they are safely on British soil.

The political powers that be are struggling to find ways to deal with the crisis. Definitely being part of the EU is a good step, Brexit would surely be disastrous for compassionate discussions on the refugee problem. Getting hold of the immoral and evil traffickers is obviously a great place to start..! I think everyone in Europe would love to see a solution to the misery and desperation of the migrants and of course, the migrants themselves are the real victims of the situation but it is important to note the dangers that lorry drivers are experiencing in Calais everyday. They did not sign up to defending themselves and their lorries daily against damage and bodily harm (and a £2000 fine if a migrant does get in their lorry and is found by the authorities!). Clare Moseley of Care4Calais has come under enough fire for her ill-advised comments earlier this year about drivers ‘being able to change jobs’  but anyone with the same attitude as her spectacularly misses the point about what truck drivers are doing. They are bringing goods into the UK of not just fresh produce we can’t grow ourselves for many months of the year but also drugs used to treat hospital patients and many other necessary imports. Until someone invents a driverless lorry we all need people willing to do the job and the current climate at Calais makes it a pretty scary one.