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Calais migrants: Secure zone to be built for UK lorries

Published 14/07/2015

Home Secretary Theresa May is to make a statement about the Calais crisis to the House of Commons
Home Secretary Theresa May is to make a statement about the Calais crisis to the House of Commons

A new secure zone will be created at Calais for UK-bound lorries in response to an unprecedented surge in migrants attempting to cross the Channel, Theresa May has announced.

The area, which will be able to hold more than 200 vehicles, will "transform security" for haulage vehicles by taking them off the open road at the French port where they have been targeted by thousands of people trying to reach Britain illegally, the Home Secretary said.

Announcing the measure in the Commons, she disclosed that more than 8,000 attempts by illegal migrants to travel to Britain had been intercepted in just three weeks between June 21 and July 11.

Transport bosses later questioned how much impact the move will have on the "out of control" emergency and claimed the Government had "let down" British hauliers.

As Mrs May announced the zone, a welter of new figures laid bare the scale of the problem facing authorities on both sides of the Channel. It was revealed that:

:: The number of migrants in Calais is now estimated to have reached 5,000 - up from around 600 in January.

:: In five weeks more than 400 immigrants were found by British police hiding in vehicles or trains - 15 times the number recorded in the first five months of the year.

:: Last week almost 100 individuals were found by officers in a single day.

:: The the annual cost of products being written off because of contamination fears when migrants hide on vehicles could reach £1 billion.

Lorry drivers endured days of misery in miles of queues in southern England following strike action in France by ferry workers.

Mrs May said hauliers who "work tirelessly" to keep the UK economy moving are also being subjected to "repeated attempts by illegal migrants who try to stow themselves away in their vehicles".

She went on: "It is imperative they are allowed to continue their business unimpeded."

Mrs May said the new zone, which will cost around two million euros (£1.4 million) and is expected to be complete in the autumn, will provide a secure waiting area for 230 vehicles - the equivalent of removing a two-and-a-half mile queue from the approaching road.

"This should transform protection for lorries and their drivers, removing them from the open road where they can become targets for migrants attempting to board their vehicles," she said.

Later Kent Police Chief Constable Alan Pughsley told the Commons Home Affairs Committee that in the five weeks from the start of June a total of 405 immigrants were found hiding in vehicles or trains - compared with just 26 such discoveries from January to May.

On July 8 alone some 96 individuals were found, he said.

Asked if he would describe the situation as a crisis, Mr Pughsley said: "I think unless something significant is done to stop the amount of people trying to come into the country there will be a stage where the resilience of my officers dealing with it will be a significant problem."

He described the industrial action in France as a "contributing factor".

Appearing at the committee, John Keefe, director of public affairs at Eurotunnel, said: "It is the simple volume that is causing the most difficulty. We have never seen numbers like this before."

He added that migrants have been stopped and passed to authorities on between 27,000 and 28,000 occasions in the last six months. The number is made up of the same people repeatedly returning, sometimes several times in one night, he said.

He said: "It's the 5,000 population simply rotating around."

He raised doubts about the potential impact of the secure zone, saying: "As soon as you remove one opportunity, the organised criminals managing the migrant attacks are moving to the next weak spot."

James Hookham, chief executive of the Freight Transport Association, highlighted the issue of loads having to be written off because of contamination fears when migrants hide on vehicles.

He said: "Although the cost to the vehicle is high, the consequential cost of the loss of the load is orders of magnitude greater."

Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, added that the annual cost of products being written off because of the crisis could be as high as £1 billion. "Full loads are being destroyed," he said.

Mr Burnett said the situation at Calais was now "out of control" and criticised the wait for the new zone.

"This isn't fast enough," he said. "We've got drivers being threatened with bars and knives. We've had an example of a driver being threatened with a gun.

"We've got a problem right now. This is unprecedented and it's escalating. We need action now."

Asked if he believed his organisation's drivers have been let down by the Government, he replied: "Absolutely."

Immigration minister James Brokenshire told the panel that measures to beef up security around northern French ports, including new fencing, should be completed by the end of this month.

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