The main road to the port of Calais is being brought to a grinding halt today, as hundreds of vehicles stage a huge ‘go-slow’ protest that will mean any traffic coming from the UK will find it “almost impossible” to leave Calais.
The demonstration, named ‘Operation Escagot’ or Operation Snail, kicked off this morning has been called the “nuclear red button” for drivers protesting about the Calais migrant camp known as The Jungle.
At least 60 trucks and 100 tractors are trying to block the motorway and organisers say they are prepared to stay there for days, after reports of attacks and deliberate car crashes as migrants and people traffickers try to force their way into vehicles, The Guardian reported.
The action means that any traffic coming from the UK will find it “almost impossible” to leave Calais.
The trucks and tractors are travelling from Dunkirk and Boulogne along France’s A16 road towards Calais, converging at the Eurotunnel exit, The Press Association reported.
They want to have a date for the demolition of the northern side of The Jungle camp, and are imploring the French government to “do something.”
David Sangard, President of Calais-based Carpentier Transport & Logistique exporter group, said: “This is the last straw, it is the equivalent of pressing the nuclear red button in order to be heard by the authorities.”
Sangard told the Freight Transport Association: “It is regrettable that we have to resort to such action, but we have been pleading with the French authorities to find a solution, including dismantling the migrant camp.”
One banner in a truck involved in the protest read: “Calais outraged, Calais broken, Calais martyred” with a picture of and picturing Charles De Gaulle
Pressure has been growing on the French authorities to tackle the problem, which has seen the camp swell to an estimated 9,000 people in size in recent months.
People traffickers are reported to be going to extreme lengths in Calais in their efforts to reach the UK, with vehicles being torched, petrol bombs thrown and trees being cut down to block roads before drivers are threatened with chainsaws and machetes.
They have even been deliberately causing car crashes on the roads to the port by hurling large objects at cars and then stowing away on lorries caught up in the traffic jams that pile up behind.
Jean-Pierre Devigne, a senior official at France’s largest trucking union, the FNTR, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We want to drive slowly on the motorway A16 from Dunkirk to Calais: one group from Dunkirk and a second from Boulogne, arriving at Calais to stop the lorries on the motorway.
“The farmers will join us on the way. We are determined to show that we are not happy with the situation.
“We [will] stay for the time we need.”
French shopkeepers, police and unionists are joining the drivers, calling for the northern section of the migrant camp at Calais to be demolished.
The Road Haulage Association said 200 French farmers are joining in the protest, angry at migrant action that has resulted in destroyed crops and extensive damage to farms in the area.
The Freight Transport Association warned that drivers in the protest would be at risk of attacks from migrants, which it claims have become “more frequent and increasingly violent”.
Burnett from the RHA added: “It seems certain that traffic crossing from the UK will find it almost impossible to leave the port as access to the A16 is denied.”
Former French Nicolas Sarkozy, who also intends to stand in the country’s next election, tweeted praise for the people of Calais, saying they showed “composure, generosity and a sense of responsibility”.
He also waded into the row over where asylum checks for people hoping to come to the UK from France should be carried out, saying that passport checks should be carried out in the UK, rather than in France as in the current situation.