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Calls for immigration action plan

A robust pan-European plan to tackle illegal immigration needs to be drafted amid mounting concern at the surge in migrants using Calais as a staging post for attempts to enter the UK, British freight transport officials said.

Measures announced recently by the UK Government, including providing £12 million over three years, would act as "just a sticking plaster" to the problem, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) said.

Natalie Chapman, head of policy for the FTA, said borders needed to be managed better across the European Union (EU), adding it was not an issue the UK and France could solve alone.

Her comments came after Prime Minister David Cameron said he is "very confident" of gaining control of the situation in Calais, where hundreds of mainly African migrants are camping or living in squats.

Mr Cameron told reporters: "I am confident in the steps we are taking.

"First of all, the declaration with regards to Calais between the French and British I think is very helpful, the fact that there are more fences going to be installed and more measures are going to be taken.

"I am very confident that we will get the situation under control."

Home Secretary Theresa May and her French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve reached a deal which will also see increased co-operation between the two countries' law enforcement agencies.

The joint plan will also involve bolstering security at the French port, which has seen increasing number of migrants using it as a staging post for efforts to cross the English Channel.

Reacting to the Prime Minister's comments, Ms Chapman said: "What David Cameron has said is a step in the right direction.

"We need more done as soon as possible to stop lorry drivers being put at risk as we are concerned about their safety and welfare.

"Anything that can be done to protect them when they are trying to get home to the UK will be really helpful.

"But to an extent this is just a sticking plaster on an issue which is far bigger than the freight industry can solve.

"I think there needs to be greater input across the EU to manage borders better.

"This is not a new problem, it has been going on for years, but it is a worsening situation and at the moment we don't see it getting any better."

Some British drivers have remortgaged their homes and taken out loans to pay fines of up to £2,000 per migrant found in their trucks, Ms Chapman added.

Tomorrow, campaigners claiming to represent UK truckers affected by the problem plan to blockade the Port of Dover in Kent.

Drivers say they face daily threats of damage to their trucks, concerns over the loss of their livelihoods and hefty fines if migrants are caught in their vehicles.

Twelve suspected illegal immigrants were held today and handed over to the Home Office immigration enforcement team after being spotted in Dover - the latest in a series of recent examples.

Concerns have been raised that far-right groups will hijack tomorrow's protest and use the plight of HGV drivers to push their hardline views on immigration.

The FTA said it did not support a blockade of the port - one of the main gateways to Britain - and has called instead for pressure to be exerted on the UK Government.

Ms Chapman said: "It's not organised by the freight industry. There are some drivers who obviously feel frustrated and abandoned and, as an industry, we are trying to protect drivers.

"But we don't think that blockading the Port of Dover is the way to improve the situation. We need to put pressure on the Government to speak to EU countries."

Kent Police said this week it was making plans to ensure the protest passed peacefully. Port of Dover officials said they were "monitoring the situation".

A port statement 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.

"We are monitoring the situation to ensure that we can deal with the planned protest in the safest and most constructive way."

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