Migrant pain for Channel truckers

Date: 16 Jan 2008


 Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 January 2008, 16:22 GMT  

 E-mail this to a friend   Printable version  
Migrant pain for Channel truckers  
By Clive Myrie 
BBC News, Calais  

The dream for many migrants who gather in Calais is to start a new life across the Channel in the UK. 

But they are a nightmare for the lorry drivers whose vehicles they target as a way in. 

Migrants hitch an unwelcome lift on lorries crossing the Channel 

It is a ritual of sorts for those who attend - the migrants gathering every evening around six o'clock at a soup kitchen run by a Catholic charity near the port of Calais. 

It is a chance to catch up on gossip or find out how others are surviving the cold winter months sleeping rough on local streets. 

Crucially, it is also an opportunity to work out how they can pool resources and escape France, crossing the Channel to a new life in the UK. 

We spent two nights at the soup kitchen as they tucked into the usual bowl of pasta, a piece of bread, a little cheese and an apple, and it was clear what they were all thinking: "How can I get out of here?" 

Watch Clive Myrie's report, with footage from the team's secret filming
Ten O'Clock News, Wednesday 16 January, BBC One, 2200 GMT
Or watch it here from 2200 GMT 

There are Afghans, Eritreans, Somalis, Iraqis, Sudanese - a United Nations of desperation. They are all clinging to the hope that soon, very soon, they will be in the UK. 

But while they are hoping to change their own lives they also adversely affect others, most notably the lorry drivers whose vehicles they attempt to stow away on to the UK. 

We spent a couple of days in Calais with Rob Mills, who has been ferrying goods through Calais by lorry for almost two decades. 

  It's incredible isn't it. You think that parking area is safe. I was shocked 

Rob Mills
Lorry driver 

At the end of last year, for the first time in his life, two migrants were found on his lorry and he was fined almost 1,000. 

"You feel like a criminal," he told me. "I nearly gave up working abroad. It is getting harder for the drivers. 

"All we want at the end of the day is to earn a living. You can see there's been people jumping on the truck, they've been in the back, crawling along the top. 

"The first vantage point they get, they'll get in, hide and that's it - they're with us." 

He went on to tell me that the fine he had to pay represented more than two weeks' work. 

Unwanted cargo 

Part of the problem is that the migrants have become skilled at breaking into vehicles quickly. 

So a brief stop for a toilet break, to get a meal or to fill up with diesel, can mean unwanted cargo getting on board. And break-ins do not just take place at night. 

We watched in utter amazement one day as in broad daylight two migrants fiddled with the lock on the back of a lorry. In the past migrants have cut locks and got accomplices to solder them back together. 

They were so vigorous they woke up the driver sleeping in the cab at the front. 

We watched him chase them off, although some drivers in similar circumstances have been attacked by migrants. 

Hidden camera 

Along with BBC cameraman Tony Smith we wanted to see just how much attention Rob's UK-registered lorry actually gets in Calais. 

Migrants in Calais hope to change their lives by going to the UK 

So Tony fitted Rob's 40-tonne truck with a hidden camera, and one evening we left it in a well established lorry park near the port. 

It is an area patrolled by the police but they cannot watch every square metre. We were parked a few hundred yards away and in the night gloom watched as a group of migrants gathered around the back of Rob's lorry and eventually got the door open. 

Our secret camera recorded one of them getting in, looking around and trying to find a place to hide among the pallets we left inside. In the end he decided not to stick around. 

The next morning Rob and I checked over his lorry. "It's incredible isn't it," he told me. "You think that parking area is safe. I was shocked." 

'Blind eye' 

I also had a word with Barrie Smith, who owns the trucking firm Rob works for. 

"If the driver finds himself with people on board and he finds himself in England with them, rather than turn them in and risk a fine, we've heard stories about drivers turning a blind eye and just letting them disappear into the community. 

"It's a very difficult position for the driver. He's between the devil and the deep blue sea, really." 

The authorities in Calais have spent millions in recent years beefing up security at the port. 

But with 4,000 trucks passing through the port every day there is plenty of opportunity for migrants to try their luck across a stretch of water that is increasingly proving no barrier for the determined, the desperate and the reckless.