Calais in Crisis: British Tourists Told to Beware Immigrants Hiding in their Cars

REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

British holiday makers passing through Calais have been warned to be on the lookout for stowaways as increasing numbers of illegal immigrants are flocking to the border crossing hoping to make their way into the UK.

The Home Office Select Committee has blamed the EU’s Schengen Agreement, which dissolves national borders between EU member states, for creating a situation in which potentially hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants can travel across the EU all the way to the border town without being stopped.

When Schengen was conceived it was assumed that the periphery borders would be water tight, but that has not proved to be the case. The UK is not part of the agreement thanks to Baroness Thatcher’s refusal, during her time as Prime Minister, to sign up to the agreement, despite pressure from Europhiles.

Tens of thousands have already flocked across the porous southern and eastern borders, mainly in Italy and Greece, where they travel to by boat from across Africa and the Middle East. Numbers have taken a sharp incline this year – Sir Charles Montgomery, director-general of the Home Office’s Border Force, said that 30,180 attempts to enter the UK were detected by his staff in the ten months to the end of January, representing a massive increase on the 18,000 detected in the entire preceding year.

And Fabrice Leggeri, the executive director of European border agency Frontex, has warned that half a million more are amassing in Libya alone to try their luck on making it into the EU. Many flock to Calais, where numbers waiting for a chance to hop the channel have nearly doubled from 1,300 last September to 2,500.

The committee’s MPs, who today released a report on the matter have said: “The situation in Calais will not ease until there is a better response to the security of Europe’s southern and eastern border. Migrants continue to put their lives at risk to cross the Mediterranean. Schengen assumed the external border of the EU would be secure but it is not, so free movement means free movement for illegal migrants within the EU. Some reach Calais before encountering any border controls.

“Improvements in security at Calais are welcome, but have to be done in tandem with measures to maintain traffic flow so lorries do not get caught in queues on the road beyond the fenced perimeter. When the lorries join queues and have to stop outside the fence, they are vulnerable to migrants trying to hide inside.”

Lorries have been ordered not to stop at all within 125 miles of the port for fear of migrants attempting to climb on board. Violent scenes have been witnessed during the last few months as drivers, fearing crippling fines if migrants are caught, have challenged migrants only to find themselves mobbed.

But now authorities are warning that, if migrants can’t get aboard lorries, they will turn to cars and family caravans instead. With the Easter break looming, holiday makers in particular are being warned to be on the lookout.

The Daily Mail spoke to Sue Taber, who found an illegal immigrant hiding in the back of her car after passing through Calais. She told the paper she thought he sneaked in when she briefly left the car unlocked in Calais.

“I’ve got a Fiat Panda for goodness sake, with two dogs in the back,” she said. “And I’ve managed to get though passport control and everything else with a stowaway on board.” Upon discovering the man in Kent, she told him “in no uncertain terms to get lost.”

The MPs have also criticised the French authorities for not dealing properly with any illegal immigrants caught by British police. Instead of removing them from the EU, or at least returning them to the country they first crossed into, as mandated under EU law, the French police simply turn them lose in the French countryside to try their luck again.

Keith Vaz MP, Chairman of the Committee, said: “Since March 2014, Border Force have intercepted over 30,000 attempts by migrants to enter the UK illegally through Calais.  By the time they reach Calais, it is too late. When Border Force staff catch migrants at the border, they do not process them or take steps to establish identity, they hand them over to the French authorities, who then release them. People traffickers act with impunity in this lucrative trade with an endless supply of customers and minor sanctions when they are caught. The crisis in Calais is a direct result of the soft EU external border in the Southern Mediterranean and the Greek – Turkish border.”

He also condemned the British authorities for not doing enough to police immigrants both entering and leaving the UK. In particular, he drew attention to the fact that immigrants with criminal backgrounds are not being properly processed, saying “It is unacceptable that despite high profile cases involving people who come into this country with criminal records only 67% are checked by local forces against ACPO’s database.

“Such a dereliction of duty permits sentences to be given without the courts being aware of previous history. Every single foreign national who has been arrested for a criminal offence in this country must be checked against this database.”

A Home Office spokesman said it had committed £12million to help reinforce security at Calais, “including installing security fencing and improving the flow of traffic to reduce the risk of queuing vehicles being targeted by migrants”.