Europe’s Migrant Crisis has added a whole new layer of concerns for supply chain security professionals … and as Kristian Bischoff, Europe Analyst at Risk Intelligence explains, there’s no end in sight as migrants go to new lengths to reach the promised land…

Since the beginning of 2015, the European Migrant Crisis has had a profound impact on multiple countries, Europe’s borders, and the European Union itself. For logistics professionals, the most direct impact is rooted in the movement of the migrants across the borders, and the need for this to happen undetected due to the ever-increasing border security and law enforcement operations.

Now, in 2020, there are several monthly reports of stowaways discovered at the border checkpoints in Calais, Dover, Zeebrugge and other ports. As these discoveries are made either in France, Belgium or in the UK, the stowaways have often boarded trucks either deeper in the French or Belgian mainland or other European countries the lorries have traversed. The stowaways or accomplices will often have entered through the roof, or by breaking into the back of the trailers. This can be done in stops as short as five minutes at parking areas or can even happen in heavy traffic. Also, there are reports of more sophisticated cases of lock tampering by human traffickers, making detection by drivers more difficult.

While having nothing to do with the migrants or perpetrators, this means that logistics professionals risk unknowingly becoming a means to illegal migration or human trafficking. This exposes logistics companies to legal penalties and prosecution by authorities, and for example, the British government impose fines of up to £2,000 per stowaway discovered in the UK. In addition to this, destruction or contamination of cargo shipments proves to be a serious issue. We have also seen instances of severe delays of deliveries, as traffic is delayed by police operations and controls, lorries are stopped, or ferries and vessels are turned around.

Even though the above is primarily a threat to business with impact on cargo and time schedules, there is also a potential direct threat against drivers. Older reports from the coastal areas tell of missiles thrown at lorries trying to make them stop, assaults against drivers, and clashes between authorities and migrants. Similarly, there have been reports about migrants and human traffickers establishing roadblocks outside secured areas and terminals, either using various objects or by simply stepping out in front of traffic. They then attempt to board the lorries as they slow down, and queues are created. While these types of incidents have become uncommon, a resurgence cannot be ruled out. 

These types of dangerous activity expose drivers to potential prosecution and psychological distress. This is not to mention the potential impact and feelings of guilt that would inevitably be connected to finding deceased migrants in the back of one’s lorry.


The dynamic threat

The threat of stowaways and human trafficking has, since 2015, become a rather dynamic issue. Initially, the threat was centred around Calais in late 2015 and early 2016, as the flow of migrants travelling toward the UK, a popular destination country, naturally ended up in this location. With the English Channel as the main obstacle, in-place security at the Eurotunnel and the ferry terminals, and a lack of other obvious methods of crossing the English Channel, the area was eventually inhabited by large numbers of migrants. With nowhere to go, the migrants set up impromptu camps, with the largest being the Calais Jungle located just outside the Calais ferry terminal, which eventually housed more than 3,000 migrants in squalid conditions. The Calais Jungle was closed in late 2016, with the migrants being transported to centres around France.

More security and barriers at key points was eventually established in the Calais area to mitigate the issue of illegal migration – an effort which has now led to a fragmentation of the problem along the coastline of Northern France and Belgium. As the migrants and traffickers discovered, other ferry connections to the British Isles were just as good as Calais-Dover, and while there is still a considerable presence of migrants at Calais, reports of stowaways elsewhere have become increasingly common. The most recent development from late 2019 is that ports as far west as Cherbourg are now being used extensively by migrants. Similarly, Dutch ports like Hoek van Holland and Ijmuiden began to report more discoveries throughout 2019. 

This fragmentation itself has shown how the threat has evolved; Stowaways and human trafficking are now a more dynamic issue which moves around in response to the hardening of port security  measures, law enforcement, and regulatory efforts and is no longer specifically focused on any one place for longer periods. 

Human trafficking groups are increasingly active in North-western Europe, often being paid large sums by migrants for transit with established smuggling networks, or simply for help entering lorries unnoticed. While rates and services differ, payments of more than €1,000 euros for passage on a lorry to the UK are not uncommon.

With authorities rushing to combat the problem in their local areas and lacking extensive national policies, the trend of more fragmentation and migrants moving around along the north European coast is likely to continue in 2020.

Concerning Brexit, there has been a scramble in recent months as migrants attempt to make it to the UK before the 31 January deadline. Similar developments have been noted before earlier Brexit deadlines, and are reported to be a result of rumours spread by traffickers about Britain being effectively sealed off from 1 February, leading migrants to believe that their window of opportunity is closing. The traffickers then profit on this uncertainty and fear by upping their prices for transits.

Trends and the future

The issue of illegal migration and stowaways is not going to go away. The presence up to 4,000 migrants along the French, Belgian, and Dutch coasts will continue to be a challenge to logisticians transporting cargo between the British Isles and continental Europe, and a long-term solution to the problem does not, for the time being, seem realistic. 

Over the autumn and December of 2019, the French authorities reported that they were clearing several migrant camps weekly. The latest clearing of a major migrant camp took place at Dunkirk in September 2019, where some 800 migrants were evicted from a makeshift tent-camp just east of the ferry terminal. The next week, new camps had sprung up in its place. The effect of such operations in the longer term is somewhat unknown, as more pressure by the authorities might just do more to convince migrants that the best bet is to try to reach the UK. Many interviews with migrants have indicated, that they are simply not deterred by arrests, detention, or extradition to the EU country of arrival.

These migrants are likely to become increasingly desperate for a solution, which is known to lead to new and increasingly dangerous methods of travel, and a specific trend for the past year has been migrants more ready to take greater risks. An example of this is the use of refrigerated trailers and containers to hide in, as the low temperatures inside the trailers make it easier for migrants to hide from heat-signature scanners in major ports. However, as the tragic Essex case from November 2019 illustrates, this is also extremely dangerous as migrants risk hypothermia while locked in trailers for hours on end. 

Another indicator of the preparedness to take greater risks is the six-fold increase from 2018 to 2019 in attempted crossings in small crafts from the French beaches to the British Coast. As the English Channel is considered one of the straits with the heaviest shipping traffic in the world, this is an extremely dangerous journey, and reports have started to surface of drowned migrants on British, French, and Belgian beaches. This has prompted French and British authorities to increase maritime surveillance measures, as well as patrolling the coastlines for dinghies and other small vessels.

Increases in security and barriers at ferry terminals may also lead to large-scale incidents like the 2019 storming of the Calais, as migrants could start organising to overcome security measures. Similarly, more desperation may lead to more confrontations as migrants may start to view violence as a last resort.

A Brexit deal in line with the policies of the British government led by Boris Johnson could exacerbate the threat significantly. With adequate solutions to border controls and the requirement for customs checks lacking, there is a chance of long delays and major queues on both sides of the channel. This could present an opportunity for migrants to attempt to board static lorries outside the barriers at the Eurotunnel and the ferry terminals spread across northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. While these attempts will be unsuccessful in most cases, it could still cause chaos on the northern European roads.

In a more geopolitical sense, as the migrants have often stayed in Europe for years, or come from Sub-Saharan Africa, the drop in migrant arrivals from the civil wars in the Middle East, the original catalyst for the Migrant Crisis, to Europe’s frontiers in 2018 and 2019 have had little effect on the overall issue. Furthermore, a destabilisation of the region as of the beginning of 2020 could lead to new flows of migrants toward Europe and have major implications for threat over the coming years.