Fears have been voiced by Northern Irish trucking figures that a security crackdown to curb illegal immigration attempts at Calais may make the situation even more dangerous.
One Co Antrim haulier told the News Letter that migrants had tried to board his vehicle only last week, and that the French police seem simply unable to cope with the situation.
He was speaking after it was revealed there had been attempts to break into the Channel Tunnel by well over 1,000 migrants on both Monday and Tuesday nights, leading to the death of one migrant, who was reportedly crushed by a lorry.
With a renewed call now being made to combat the problems, Seamus Leheny, policy manager at the Freight Transport Association in Northern Ireland, said: “With a lot of human traffickers over there, there’s a surge from these guys, because they see time is running out before security is tightened.”
Tony Henderson, working for Ballymena haulage firm Blair International Transport, believes the only solution is to deport migrants from the area en masse – but that could lead them to believe they have “nothing to lose” .
The 64-year-old Larne man, who has been trucking since age 21 and is originally from Staffordshire, was speaking to the News Letter from central France.
He was forced to divert his cargo of industrial equipment from the shorter Dover-Calais tunnel crossing on Tuesday (which takes under an hour) to the Portsmouth-Caen sailing (which is more expensive and takes about seven hours) due to ongoing delays.
He was queuing to return to Dover early last week when men tried to board his vehicle.
“They tried to gain access through the back doors. Luckily the guy behind me blew his horn to alert me,” he said.
“There were only two or three of them, so I was able to get out, and they ran. That’s the way it is. If there were more than that, I couldn’t have got out.”
He said they were young men, likely from Somalia.
He believes hundreds of migrants are legitimate refugees fleeing their countries in desperation, but the majority are “economic migrants”.
If caught with an illegal passenger on board, the fine can be up to £2,000.
“There’s an atmosphere hanging over the place; you can almost cut it with a knife,” he said of Calais.
While the ferry traffic is relatively well-protected, the train access route was “abominable”, as shown by the mass break-in bids at the tunnel.
He said: “The French police can’t cope with it. It’s not their fault. They can’t hold back those kind of numbers.”
Asked what the future holds for Calais, he said: “I think there’s going to be a riot. I honestly believe that we’re going to be in for a lot more trouble than we’ve seen. I hope I’m wrong.
“But they have nothing more to lose if they know they’re going to be taken back.”
With long queues having developed at the ports and the tunnel, Colin Taylor, a 42-year-old Ballymena-based transport planner at the firm, said: “We’re still having to pay drivers to sit in this. At the end of the day, the company has to take the hit.”
Meanwhile, urgent improvement in security is needed at Calais following the death of a migrant in the latest incursion at the Channel Tunnel, the Government said.
Home Secretary Theresa May made the comments as the operator said it has blocked more than 37,000 people attempting to cross in to the UK this year.
Speaking at the Home Office, Mrs May said: “A number of people have come through. We will be dealing with anybody’s asylum claim in the normal way as we always do.
“But crucially what we are looking at now is improving security at the railhead at Coquelles, so we can ensure people are not trying to come through the tunnel.
“That means some urgent work in government but also with Eurotunnel, and Eurotunnel has a role to play here in the measures they themselves put in place to protect their trains.”