Migrants leave Channel trucks backed up 65km

2015-07-30 19:46
An aerial view of lorries queueing along the M20 in Ashford, England. (AP)

An aerial view of lorries queueing along the M20 in Ashford, England. (AP)

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Folkestone - Truck drivers stuck in Britain waiting to cross into mainland Europe vented their frustration on Thursday at their marathon ordeal caused by the migrant crisis on the French side of the Channel.

Thousands of trucks gridlocked the M20 motorway between London and southeastern ports of Folkestone and Dover, forming a giant line snaking through the county of Kent that could take days to clear.

At times of cross-Channel delays, police turn the M20 into a giant parking queue called Operation Stack.

But it has never before stretched so far, covering more than 65km on both sides of the road.

The current problems are caused by waves of attempts by migrants to storm the Channel Tunnel, the undersea rail link between Britain and France, although strikes around the northeastern French port of Calais caused disruption earlier this month.

Haulage contractor Dave Dobson lives 8km from the Folkestone docks, but said he faced a 36-hour journey home after returning from France.

"I'm a prisoner in my own county. It's unbelievable," he told AFP.

"I normally do three deliveries a week and I've done one this week and it's nearly Friday... If it goes on like this I'm going to lose everything. I'll be out of work."

'Truck stop of England' 

Portable toilets are posted every mile along the blocked road, and drivers have to stock up on food and water.

"It's dire," said David Scott Smith, area manager for the Road Haulage Association, which represents 6 500 member companies running 120 000 vehicles.

"We're seeing unprecedented levels of trucks being stuck in Operation Stack," he told AFP, describing the situation as "untenable".

"Kent is no longer the Garden of England; it is the truck stop of England."

He said trucks at the back of the queue faced at least an 18-hour wait before reaching the terminals, where they would wait for several more hours - an expensive delay.

"We're looking at about 5 500 freight movements a day to mainland Europe. A truck has a standing cost of about £321 [a day]. When it's stationary, the costs are not being covered," he said.

He noted this week's positive economic growth figures, but warned: "Our GDP is now stationary on the M20."

The Freight Transport Association industry body estimates British haulage firms are losing £750 000 a day because of the delays.

The British and French authorities are working together to try to secure the port of Calais against attempts by migrants to cross illegally on board trucks and trains making the Channel crossing.

But the tabloid press and some politicians in Britain blame the French for failing to address the problem - a sentiment echoed on the M20.

"Nothing will change until a Frenchman gets killed. Then they'll do something about it," said one English trucker, who did not want to be named.

He said a migrant had attempted to hide under his vehicle last week but he chased the man away with a spray of lubrication oil.

An EU problem

The traffic is affecting holidaymakers heading for the coast as well as residents, prompting local lawmaker Damian Collins, a member of Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative party, to demand a rethink.

"Operation Stack has failed. It is causing gridlock on our roads, major problems for people, for hospital appointments, for businesses going about their business," he told the BBC.

Collins has suggested a separate parking area be set up for the trucks, to keep them off the motorway. A similar system is used in France when freight traffic backs up there.

Opposition Labour lawmaker Keith Vaz, chairperson of parliament's home affairs committee, said the issue must be dealt with at source - in the Mediterranean, where many of the migrants who end up in Calais cross into Europe.

"It's not a British and French problem, it's an EU problem and it will get worse," he told AFP.

Read more on:    uk  |  france  |  migrants

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