The Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA) has backed a protest by truckers in Calais, saying drivers are leaving the industry "in their droves" because of the migrant situation.
Groups representing truck drivers in France and the UK brought traffic to a standstill near the entrance to the Eurotunnel in Calais on Monday as part of a demonstration about the threats posed to truckers who pass through the port town.
Local farmers frustrated about damage caused to their crops by inhabitants of the unofficial "Jungle" refugee camp have also joined in, and IRHA president Verona Murphy expects some Irish drivers will be caught up in the disruption.
“We don’t have any choice because nobody else is taking any action,” she said, referencing examples where drivers have attracted large fines for unwittingly smuggling migrants and threats by people traffickers.
“They [migrants] are carrying some form of weapon at all times, be it knives or bars,” she alleged.
“It is very, very life-threatening for our drivers and our workforce who are leaving in their droves because of the danger and because of the fines they are being faced with by the UK border force.
“These migrants are carrying portable angle grinders, they’re just cutting locks off trailers and doing severe damage in the midst of what they’re doing, and then being found anyway,” she said.
Long lines of vehicles queuing to enter the tunnel on either side of the English Channel have become a regular occurrence over the last two years, and hauliers have previously complained of food items perishing while trucks waited to cross.
The IRHA wants the existing regulations whereby drivers are fined thousands of euro if stowaways are found in their trailers to be completely overhauled, and says drivers will continue to self-report suspected intrusions by migrants regardless.
“If the fines were to stop I am pretty sure the vigilance of the hauliers will continue. We have to consider the goods in the trailer, we have to consider the customers, there is no benefit to us of having migrants,” said Ms Murphy.
Threat with knife
One truck-driver The Irish Times spoke to - who could not be named due to concerns over possible repercussions by border force inspectors - said he will not be returning to the Continent any time soon after being fined, jailed and threatened with a knife over the course of the last two years.
“I found them [migrants] in the trailer and I put them out, and they produced a Stanley knife. You can’t get involved with them, I had to call the police,” said the man, who was held for 24 hours by UK police in 2014 after they found stowaways in his truck. He was fined for the same offence in France last year.
“They’re standing on the road, walking across slowly on the motorway to slow you down, and as soon as you do a gang of them rush the back of the trailer... I have no desire to go back there. If this was over I would. I’m not going to the Continent any more because of it,” he said.
Ms Murphy says her dealings with the Department of Foreign Affairs on the issue have been akin to “banging your head off a stone wall”, and she has called for more intense lobbying by Irish diplomats on the topic of fines.
She does not favour dismantling the “Jungle” camp as some have suggested because she believes this will only disperse the problem elsewhere, and says drivers have no real alternative to Calais as other ports cannot handle the same volume of freight.