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Lorry drivers 'used as scapegoats'

Lorry drivers are being treated as "scapegoats" and penalised unfairly as the illegal migrant crisis worsens.

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) has called on the UK and French Governments, and the European Union to take the lead and bring in stricter border controls in Calais and across Europe after learning that drivers could face fines of up to £2,000 per immigrant, if stowaways are found in their vehicles.

Haulage companies have also said they are at a loss as to what to do as migrants find more inventive ways of getting into lorries.

Drivers are expected to blockade the Port of Dover from 1pm on Saturday in protest at the penalties and the difficulties they face, according to a Facebook group called Support the Calais to Dover Truckers.

Kent Police said it was aware of the planned demonstration at Dover Eastern Docks and that preparations were under way to ensure that it was a safe and peaceful protest.

Chief Superintendent Steve Corbishley said: "We are engaging with the ports and other relevant agencies in our efforts to ensure the facilitation of both the right to peacefully protest and people's right to go about their daily business unimpeded."

Kevin King, managing director of Heritage International Transport, based in Dover, Kent, said the problem had become worse this year and many companies felt like they were "banging their heads against a brick wall".

He said: "It's definitely getting worse and unfortunately we were in a situation where we had a sub-contractor pulling one of our own trailers with illegal immigrants on and the French Government impounded it and has said they are not going to give it back.

"They've got a £30,000 trailer sitting in a compound in Calais which will be kept and disposed of at their leisure."

Mr King said what was more frustrating was that they had put all the security measures they possibly could in place, yet migrants still found ways of getting on to the lorries.

He said: "They have clamps to get in and you would not even know the trailer had been opened.

"The only solution is to check every single vehicle, and that's not humanly possible."

Mr King said his company had been subject to several incursions, including fines of £10,000 and £12,000.

He said Heritage International Transport, which does up to 100 Channel crossings a day, would not be taking part in this weekend's blockade but that if drivers as individuals felt the need to take part then he would not stop them.

He said: "I would never stop them from protesting for their own safety and security.

"It is their human right."

He added that he did not know anyone in the business who had not been affected by the situation and that the UK Government needed to do more to make the country less appealing.

He continued: "I cringe every time we send a vehicle out because I wonder what's going to come back."

Natalie Chapman, FTA's head of policy for London and the South East, said they were extremely concerned for the safety and welfare of drivers crossing the Channel, and that they felt they were being used as scapegoats.

But she said that blockading the Port of Dover was not the right way for drivers to vent their frustration and that the cause of the problem lay elsewhere.

Ms Chapman said the FTA had written to the Foreign Secretary but was yet to receive a reply and that she had also spoken to Calais Deputy Mayor Philippe Mignonet.

She said: "It's about managing EU borders better.

"A lot of migrants are coming through places like the Italian island of Lampedusa.

"We need to help those who are dealing with the initial influx of migrants who are coming through the Mediterranean."

She said the FTA was also concerned that the more desperate migrants became the more risks they were willing to take with their own safety and the safety of others.

She said: "The Government needs to be protecting the drivers, not penalising them with fines."

A Port of Dover spokesman said: "We are aware of the potential protest planned for this Saturday under the banner of supporting the truckers and we are in close liaison with our partners about this issue.

"Our primary concern is the safety and well-being of our customers and community and keeping the port and its operations open.

"Over the next few days, we will be monitoring the situation to ensure that we can deal with any planned protests in the safest and most constructive way."

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