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Don't make up your mind about the Calais Wall until you've read this lorry driver's view

9th September 2016

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The dark, dimly-lit motorway into Calais was punctured by a speck of light. As Marty Hirst drew closer in his lorry, he saw flames licking the tarmac from hay bales placed at the side of the road.

It wasn’t a wholly unexpected sight at 3.30 in the morning. Smugglers trying to get their charges across the Channel had staged a spectacle to slow traffic, thereby creating the opportunity to leap onto the back of passing lorries as they rolled past.

Two migrants cling to the top of a lorry as it leaves the Eurotunnel site in Folkestone, Kent,(Gareth Fuller/PA)
Two migrants cling to the top of a lorry as it leaves the Eurotunnel site in Folkestone, Kent,(Gareth Fuller/PA)

Marty manoeuvred past the police cars and continued on his way, but it turned out that the fire was a diversion for something bigger.

“Two kilometres further on, there’s a section of road which is an ‘S’ shape with no lighting and bushes and trees on both sides.

“There, a tree had been felled and laid in the road. It wasn’t massive, but big enough that you couldn’t drive over it.

Marty's truck with smashed windscreen (Marty Hirst)
Marty’s truck has been damaged on a number of occasions (Marty Hirst)

“I stopped my van 50-100 yards back to consider my options, and a short while later a group of people came running out of the bushes… and started climbing up between the back of my cab and the front of the trailer.”

Marty did not want to leave his vehicle and was reluctant to drive away, knowing he could put the stowaways’ lives in danger.

After calling the police and waiting 20 minutes (he says they did not arrive), he eventually decided to very slowly drive the final 7km to the tunnel portal.

men wait outside a truck as a customs office inspects it (Marty Hirst)
Some of the stowaways after removal from Marty’s truck (Marty Hirst)

When he reached Calais, Marty alerted security, who removed 17 people from the inside of his truck. The men had cut a hole in the canvas roof in order to gain entry to the trailer.

Even with searches, staff can’t be certain that all stowaways have been removed.

“For that 10 or 15-minute window [the group are in the truck], they are burying two or three of them in the load,” says Marty.

“The others cover them up and make it look untouched, knowing the rest will be chased out.”

Despite the incident, which occurred two weeks ago, Marty, who has been working as a haulier from Holland to the UK for 14 years, feels the wall proposed by Theresa May’s Government this week isn’t the right solution.

The Government said the wall would be 4m high and 1km long, along the main motorway to the ferry and tunnel terminals in Calais.

It is expected to cost £1.9 million and will form part of £17 million-worth of measures to prevent refugees attempting the journey across the Channel to the UK.

Improvements have been made and are working.

At the start of the crisis, Marty says, traffic management issues led to jams on the motorways into the ferry and Eurotunnel terminals.

Stand-still and slow-moving traffic made it easy for smugglers to place people in trucks and under the axles of coaches, putting them in severe danger. Public pressure has come to bear on this though.

Workers install fences at the ferry port in Calais (Michel Spingler/AP)
Workers install fences at the ferry port in Calais (Michel Spingler/AP)

“They’ve built a 4m high security fence all the way around the perimeter in the last year or so. It works.

“These fences reach all the way out to some distance along both sides of the motorway leading into the port at Calais, right out to about 2km.”

This method has reduced the numbers of people getting into danger as stowaways, and Marty believes a wall won’t do anything to stop the flow of people.

Treating the root of the problem.

The jungle camp (Anthony Devlin/PA)
(Anthony Devlin/PA)

Marty is against the Government’s plans to build a permanent wall. “I’m a little surprised at the naivety and complete lack of knowledge of the situation on the ground.”

He says the current tactics of people smugglers show that a wall wouldn’t work.

“The migrants will move their operations out further, to 5-7km away from those fences. That’s where they’re dragging burning hay bales and felled trees onto the motorway.”

Instead, Marty would like to see a more humane approach to the crisis. “I do understand their situation and sympathise. If I was in their situation, I would be at the front of the queue to try and get in one of these trucks.”

Asked what he would say to French President Francois Hollande if he had the chance, he said: “Stand up to your obligations and treaties that you’ve signed.

“Treat these people humanely and securely. They need to be taken to secure accommodation, in humane conditions with a roof over their head, three meals a day and a blanket at night while their claims are being heard.”

Marty thinks that the current way of dealing with stowaways is ineffective and doesn’t deal with the smugglers who are putting people in danger and profiting from it.

A bus taking stowaways back to the camp (Marty Hirst)
A bus taking stowaways back to the camp (Marty Hirst)

“Using my story from the other week as an example, at least one of those 17 people is a leader, being paid to direct the others.

“There were buses going backwards and forwards that night [to the camp]. They weren’t going to a French prison or a processing centre, they were getting straight back to the entrance of the Jungle. Including the human traffickers who they should be targeting.”

A growing camp and developing crisis.

a graphics showing a map of the camp and resident numbers (Snappa)

Despite a section of the ‘Jungle’ camp being cleared and up to 1,500 people moved to heated containers in February, Full Fact puts the number of residents camping out at Calais at between 6,900 and 9,100, including children.

Some of these people are resorting to desperate measures to connect with family or friends or find better prospects; paying smugglers to help them clamber onto Eurotunnel trains or into lorries in a bid to reach the UK.

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