On a dark night in northern France near the English channel, a Polish truck driver is doing his normal run. Sigala’s “Give Me Your Love” blares out of the stereo. Out of the darkness, what looks to be a massive tree branch is strewn across the road, and it’s surrounded by men holding what look like weapons. It looks like a normal, criminal stickup, but it’s way more complicated than that.
They’re refugees, and they’re trying to make their way to Britain.
More than a million people have fled to Europe as war in the Middle East drags on, and their destinations vary all over Europe. Most countries in Europe have been relatively easy for them to reach once inside the European Union – but the United Kingdom lies outside the passport-free Schengen Area, and the English Channel acts as a veritable moat, keeping people out. The British government has agreed to re-settle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees but so far, that’s it.
Refugees from other war-torn countries like Eritrea aren’t as fortunate – even if they embrace the possibility of death over a lifetime of torture in a country sometimes called “the North Korea of Africa.”
Nearly 10,000 refugees sit in a camp near Calais, France, known as The Jungle. Running water is intermittent in The Jungle, and lines for showers can stretch for more than six hours, according to Doctors Without Borders.
Most in The Jungle want to get to British soil, where they hope to find jobs and start a new life. Most wait there, doing what they can until approved for re-settlement.
Some get tired of waiting, and they take matters into their own hands. A report from the Guardian last month says it’s not getting better:
Verona Murphy, president of Irish Road Haulage Association, who visited the camp last month, said the number of violent attacks against lorry drivers was “worse than ever. And the migrants are more brazen than ever.”
Lorry drivers report being attacked with stones, metal bars and wooden stakes. Joseph Druhan, who has been driving lorries through Calais for more than 40 years, said: “It’s the worst I’ve seen it.” He said he seen seen vehicles attacked with bolt cutters, chainsaws and angle grinders by migrants trying to stow away in trucks.
It’s gotten so bad that last month French truck drivers threatened to close the port of Calais unless something was done about the camp.
So oppression in Africa and the Middle East has pushed refugees to the edge of continental Europe, and the English Channel (and the UK’s limited acceptance of refugees) has pressed truckers into the role of unwilling ferrymen.
It’s an incredibly bad situation for everyone involved. The refugees can’t go back, often for fear of being murdered. The truck drivers need to be able to do their jobs as safely as possible.
Right now, something has to improve.