Saturday 24 March 2018

Irish truckers in fear of attack from Calais migrants

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: Migrants climb in the back of a lorry on the A16 leading to the Eurotunnel in Calais, France
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: Migrants climb in the back of a lorry on the A16 leading to the Eurotunnel in Calais, France

Claire McCormick

Irish truckers are facing sleepless nights at French ports - terrified of violent attacks by desperate migrants and fearful of big fines if the migrants stow away.

Over the past six months, male and female drivers from the Republic have been intimidated by swarms of migrants while stuck in delays of up to 20 hours near the Channel Tunnel around Calais.

The Irish drivers transporting goods from the continent have been caught in the crossfire as some 5,000 migrants lay siege to the port hoping to get to the UK to apply for asylum or simply get to Britain to work illegally.

Last week the British government confirmed that a new 'secure zone' will be created to stem the problem after a migrant died attempting to board a freight train headed for Britain.

Truck company bosses here are increasingly concerned about the safety of their staff left "traumatised" by the chaos in France.

The Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA) claim there will be "catastrophic" damage to Ireland's export industry unless the Government intervenes to protect drivers.

David McArdle, director of DG McArdle International, said around 60 drivers in his fleet have been affected.

"They are basically stuck on the side of a road equivalent to the M50, with no food, no water and no toilet facilities and could be there for days," he said.

"Around 30 migrants are surrounding trucks and trying to gain entry into the trailer. They are pulling at curtains, doors and walking around intimidating them with knives and bars," he said, adding that driver's are particularly scared at night-time.

"They can't go to sleep because you have to move your truck every hour and they are constantly afraid of people breaking in," he said.

Migrants have also been caught climbing on to the axles of trailers and hiding behind wind breaks.

Each vehicle is inspected before entering the port and haulage operators are fined £2,000 (€2,780) per migrant found on board - regardless of whether the driver was aware of stowaways.

In addition, drivers are also issued with a personal fine ranging from £500 to £1,000.

"At one stage we were looking at over £30,000 for something that happened even though the driver had done everything in his power to prevent it," said Mr McArdle, adding that migrants have been found on his trucks three times over the last 18 months.

"It's a totally impossible situation. We understand that they're coming from a bad area but it's not our fault and the British government are forcing the situation upon hauliers in Ireland, England and all of Europe," he said.

"Our greatest fear is that something will happen to one of our drivers, that there will be some problem at night-time and they get out of their truck in Calais and get knifed," he said.

Over recent weeks, the company - which hauls pharmaceutical, general cargo and high value products - has forked out extra cash on shipping to avoid the cross-Channel port due to strike action in Calais where 400 local workers blockaded the port.

"I'm worried about my workforce, you're basically sending them out to danger, not to an ordinary job. It's protection they need," he said, adding that some of his older drivers are stressed out when they return and are considering quitting the trade. Although the situation at Calais has been a problem for almost a decade, the migrants have become increasingly hostile in recent months and have strength in numbers.

Verona Murphy, president of the IRHA, says the military should be sent in to secure the area.

"We're being criminalised as traffickers and we can't do anything about it. We as lorry drivers can't secure the compounds - we need the government to do that," said Ms Murphy who is concerned about implications for the export of fresh and perishable goods.

The UK reported that £10m worth of fresh produce was destroyed during the strike.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News