Essex lorry deaths: Dunkirk migrants 'all scared of lorries'

By Lucy Williamson
BBC News, Puythouck camp, northern France

  • Published
Migrants at Puythouck camp, northern France
Image caption,
People smugglers in northern France charge up to €10,000 (£8,640; $11,100) per person for passage to the UK

Puythouck camp, in the woods near Dunkirk, is a place where you queue for everything, while waiting for only one thing: the chance to hide inside a lorry bound for the UK.

Meanwhile, in this vast open-air waiting room, some 500 migrants from Afghanistan and the Kurdish areas of Iraq and Iran pitch their tents beneath the dripping trees.

Everyone here had heard about the deaths of 39 people inside a refrigerated lorry which had just crossed the Channel from Belgium.

"It's very hard," Serbaz told me. "Everyone is scared to go onto any lorry."

Serbaz arrived here from Iraq a week ago with his wife, who's eight months pregnant.

With such tight security at the ports, smugglers are their only hope of reaching the UK, he says, but you don't know what you're signing up to.

"If they say 'go to this truck', you have to go, you have no choice. They're capable of doing anything.

"When you deal with them, you just have to obey them, and whatever they tell you, you have to do," Serbaz said.

One woman in the family area of the camp said she and others began to have problems breathing while hidden inside a sealed container.

When they shouted and kicked the walls, she said, the driver simply swore at them.

They had to call the police, who tracked the GPS signal on their mobile phones to find them and get them out.

A Kurdish man, Taish, also told me that he had tried to cross the Channel in refrigerated lorries. He was found each time by border guards.

"Sometimes we are happy for them to save our lives," he said. "Sometimes we are sad that they didn't let us go to the UK."

Despite the shock of 39 people dying on the crossing, Taish said he was not put off.

"We are between two deaths," he explained. "If we go back to our countries, it's death; if we try to get to the UK, maybe it's death, too.

"Thirty-nine people die in a truck, but thousands die in my country. I think it's a good death, better than the death in our country," Taish said.

Security is tight at the French ports of Dunkirk and Calais, but they're attractive to both migrants and people smugglers because they're so close to the UK.

And as one man put it, "if you're going to cross in the back of a lorry, three hours is better than seven."

People smugglers here charge up to €10,000 (£8,640; $11,100) per person for passage to the UK.

They're also reported to be blocking access to the lorry parks for anyone who hasn't paid, making it more difficult for people to try their luck on their own.

But, today at least, there's another cost to weigh.

"There are deaths at sea," Serbaz told me, "and deaths in the lorries. We honestly don't know which way to go."