One Illegal Immigrant

We see them on the news. Hordes of illegal would-be immigrants to Britain’s bountiful shores. They fill the camp at Calais. They swarm across the roads that lead to the channel ports and tunnel. And they try to climb on board any vehicle that’s heading for the UK.

As residents of a small island off the coast of mainland Europe, we feel threatened. People say: “We’re already overcrowded.” and "We can’t take endless numbers of strangers into our country.” and “They only want our benefits, housing and a car”.

Library photo of immigrants at Calais
News photo of immigrants at Calais

It’s a worrying situation and feels more like an invasion than a crisis. But what happens when you meet one of these illegals face-to-face? It happened to us on our return from a coach trip to Boulogne in July this year.

We were returning from Boulogne-sur-Mer by coach with a party of people from Stilton. We arrived at the port of Calias having seen no immigrants at all. Inside the port, our coach was searched by officers with torches who peered into the engine compartment and other places as the driver lifted access flaps. And onto the ferry we drove, via passport control. All was normal.

At Dover, we reboarded the coach and set off, cruising at 70mph along the A20, the M25, through the Dartford Tunnel and on up the M11 to Stansted where we pulled into Birchanger Services for a break.

As we came to a halt we could hear banging and shouting from underneath the rear of the coach. Gathering round the rear wheel we watched as a rather dusty young man crawled out!

We’ve no idea where he got on the coach. Possibly he transferred from another vehicle on the car deck of the ferry? It was clear however that he had been clinging to the top of the coach’s rear axle staring down at the motorway rushing below him at 70mph - and he’d been there for probably an hour and a half.

Although we thought he might make a bid for freedom, he waited quietly until a police officer was able to come and take charge of him. It seems there is a well-oiled procedure for live immigrants (the officer also said that one of his jobs is sorting out the mess when they fall off their stowaway vehicles).

Seeing this incredibly brave - if foolish - young man, we realised that this is not a story of mass immigration and benefit claing but a very human tragedy. What journey had he made prior to boarding our coach? What family had he left behind; and what had driven him to abandon his town and country of birth? War? Famine? Persecution? As a non-English speaker, all we could discover was that he had come from the Sudan.

We had a whip round and collected £80 for him to help him whereve he went next. The officer assured us that this was now his possession and would be respected as such.

And so we continued on our way and we have no idea where his life took him. We often wonder . . .

young sudanese man

The young man who stowed away beneath our coach

The reason so many people are fleeing to Europe is, of course, because life in their war-torn countries has become almost impossible. Cruel factions control the lives of ordinary people in ways we cannot begin to imagine. And our highly valued freedom of speech is but a distant dream for them.

I don’t believe that they really want to leave the counties of their birth. I think that, under these circulmstancesanyone would try to escape to a country where people are free to make their own choices, be valued, and make a better life for themselves and the people they love.

With very few exceptions, I don’t believe they are coming in order to sit around living on benefits. I would be willing to bet that the vast majority wish to work hard, using skills they already have, and contribute to society in a way that we all respect.

© Brian Smith 2015