Freight drivers blockaded the main road leading to the port of Calais on Monday, demanding that French authorities shut down a nearby migrant camp known as the Jungle.
Truckers want to force the government to more quickly address what they say are increasingly violent roadside attacks and rising human and economic costs associated with stowaways trying to get to the U.K.
The disruption of freight traffic at Calais threatens the £100-billion-per-year flow of trade between the Continent and the U.K., which trucking companies say has already been affected by the problems around the migrant camp. The blockade also creates a political headache for London and Paris as they grapple with border control and migration issues in the uncertain relationship between the EU and Britain after the Brexit vote.
“We get tire irons swung at us, branches; people get bricks through their window,” said Steve Hughes, leaning out of the window of his cab as he waited Friday to take his cargo of Belgian chips through the 14 steps of security checks at the port.
The transport industry is upset by the chaos the Jungle has caused. The camp houses about 10,000 people fleeing the Middle East, Africa and Asia, many of whom want to hitch an illegal ride on one of the 1.85 million freight vehicles that pass through Calais every year on the way to Britain. The area is one of the prime entry points for cargo traveling to and from the U.K.
Paris has pledged to close the Jungle in phases and post more police to Calais. That won’t happen fast enough to forestall Operation Snail, as Monday’s protest is known, said David Sagnard, a Calais-based truck boss and president of the local transport association.
“They don’t understand what transporters are facing. They are turning a blind eye to everything. All the attacks … they are just ignoring it,” Sagnard said.
“Bernard Cazeneuve heard that business is suffering but nothing changes,” he said after a meeting with the French interior minister.
Sagnard wants the Jungle gone, better security for drivers on the road, tougher action from local prosecutors on migrants who attack drivers and an end to the £2,000 fine per person for drivers found to have stowaways on board even after submitting to the multiple checks at Calais port.
“What is really crucial is how quickly this happens. In the meantime, we still need security for drivers and operators,” said Stuart Colley, who has been out at Calais port for the International Road Transport Union association.