How CO2 monitors and crackdown on lorry stowaways drove migrants to the sea

·3-min read
Migrants board lorry near Calais - DENIS CHARLET/AFP
Migrants board lorry near Calais - DENIS CHARLET/AFP

More migrants have been forced to make the perilous journey across the Channel in makeshift boats because of technological advances in detection measures being fitted in lorries.

More than 20,000 asylum-seekers are believed to have crossed from France to the Kent coast this year alone, as aid workers warn a lack of safe routes into the UK has driven up the number of people opting for the dangerous route.

Sophisticated CO2 monitors have helped lorry drivers crackdown on migrant stowaways, essentially closing the preferred route for people trying to reach Britain through the EuroTunnel hidden in shipments.

It comes after at least 27 people died on Wednesday off the coast of Calais trying to reach Britain. The bodies of dozens of migrants, including seven women and a young girl, were found floating in the sea after their boat capsized and sank.

Carbon dioxide monitors and crackdown on migrant stowaways in lorries drives up dangerous Channel crossings - GONZALO FUENTES /REUTERS
Carbon dioxide monitors and crackdown on migrant stowaways in lorries drives up dangerous Channel crossings - GONZALO FUENTES /REUTERS

In recent years, the authorities have cracked down on people attempting to stowaway or hide under lorries travelling through the Channel Tunnel, the preferred method for migrants to reach the UK.

The French and British governments installed walls, high-wire fences, extra security and cameras, as well as more on board checks, such as carbon dioxide monitors to detect stowaways, on haulage vehicles to shut off access to this route.

The carbon monitors can detect people breathing within a 40ft range, and can be calibrated to ensure false alarms from fruit and vegetables are not triggered.

The normal atmospheric level of CO2 is 400 parts per million, but the presence of one individual breathing can increase that to 500 parts per million when standing in an empty shipping container. The average person can exhale as much as 24 litres of CO2 every hour.

Even when there is a slight draft, the new detectors are able to confirm a person's presence within a couple of hours.

More lorries are also subjected to random spot checks, when they are taken through scanners that can detect people hiding within shipments.

Drivers were also threatened with huge fines if they are caught with migrant stowaways within their consignments.

Local charity workers in Calais say this has forced more people to take the dangerous option of small boats in the hope of reaching Britain.

Clare Mosely, of the Care4Calais NGO said "boat crossings are one of the very few ways that people can get to the UK to claim asylum.

"For all practical purposes there is no legal way to travel, so the only choice is whether you risk your life in a small boat or hidden in a lorry," she added.

Claire Millot, from the Salam migrant welfare NGO, said migrants would usually take three weeks to cross the Channel via lorries, but now the Channel route is much quicker.

Taking makeshift boats is “something that worked very well this year”, she told Euronews, adding: "The crossings were very successful overall and so inevitably people afterwards call each other to say 'I crossed on an inflatable boat' and so it encourages others to do it."

Dr Peter William Walsh, of the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory, added: “the route has become more established, probably with better-organised trafficking networks, in part likely due to increased policing on other routes.”

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