Violent scenes witnessed yesterday in and around Calais have been described as “unprecedented” by the Freight Transport Association (FTA).
Touring the Eurotunnel facilities on what was expected to be the busiest day of the year for vehicles travelling through Calais, the FTA’s manager for road freight and enforcement policy Chris Yarsley said he saw thousands of migrants attacking trucks as they queued on the motorway.
Yarsley, who is normally based in the FTA’s Brussels office, said: “I am flabbergasted at what I have seen today; there were literally thousands of migrants benefitting from the queue of slow moving traffic on the roads around Calais. They were attacking vehicles, breaking the locks of trucks, slashing roofs of the lorries and climbing in the back of them.
“French Police were highly visible and were taking extreme measures to break up the crowds including using tear gas and closing the motorway in order to control the situation, but appeared to be overwhelmed by the numbers. The migrants appeared to be organised in their attacks, as we were told of disturbances in the town centre which diverted police attention allowing opportunities for incursion attempts, and migrants took advantage of traffic being slowed on the road outside of the security fencing.”
The FTA has estimated that £89 billion worth of UK trade passes through Calais on a yearly basis. Previously, FTA has written to the Mayor of Calais, and the UK’s Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister calling for action on the worsening situation for its members in the French town.
Yarsley continued: “The situation in Calais is totally unacceptable – the area is clearly in crisis. Truck operators and their drivers are in the firing line – sometimes literally. Whatever your views on the plight of migrants and asylum seekers, no-one has a right to threaten, intimidate or physically attack drivers and other innocent bystanders.
“FTA expects and demands safe passage for truck drivers and others going about their lawful business. This must be the primary concern of French and British governments before someone gets seriously injured, or even killed.”
Representing FTA, Yarsley had been invited by Eurotunnel to a round-table meeting with other national industry associations, including the IRU and Border Force at the French port to discuss security at Calais.
In November FTA travelled with one of its members – Blair Transport – through Calais to experience what the drivers in the area were facing first-hand. A video recording the experience is available via the FTA’s YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZpEvVgN28U
The Freight Transport Association Ireland (FTAI) this week also released photographs of a truck damaged by stone-throwing migrants in Calais to illustrate the growing problem of violence towards drivers at the port. It said that Calais may have slipped out of the media spotlight, “but the chaos continues around the French port and is at crisis point for truck drivers heading through the area being threatened by migrants on a daily basis”.
The windscreen of the Virginia International Logistics lorry was cracked in two places in the attack. The driver was told by police to report the incident at the police station in town, which would have meant leaving the port and travelling back through for a second time.
Neil McDonnell, General Manager of FTAI, said: “We understand the terrible conditions under which migrants and asylum seekers are living in Calais. However, nothing excuses violent conduct against freight drivers. If this behaviour continues, it is only a matter of time until a confrontation between immigrants and drivers results in serious injury, or worse.”
FTAI members have reported an increased number of confrontational incidents for drivers approaching Calais in recent weeks. FTAI said migrant activity was now shifting to the Port of Cherbourg where the French police presence is lower, while other reports this week have indicated that growing numbers of migrants are now targeting road freight vehicles in the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.
The association’s members have described the area around the port of Calais as a ‘warzone’, and FTAI warned last month that the situation in Calais would escalate if no action is taken after violent battles broke out between police and migrants near the Jungle migrant camp near the French town.
McDonnell added: “FTAI expects and demands safe passage for truck drivers and other port users going about their lawful business. This must be the primary concern of the French and UK authorities before someone gets seriously injured, or even killed.”