When the news broke last year that 39 people had been found dead in the back of a refrigerated trailer in the UK, there was an overwhelming feeling of revulsion, not least amongst the road transport industry.
People in the industry have known for a while that this kind of activity was happening. Trucking companies are well aware that their vehicles are being targeted by people desperately seeking a better life. And drivers themselves would have seen attempts by migrants trying to climb onto other trucks.
But more often than not, the drivers of the vehicles in which stowaways have been found have had no idea human cargo was on board. And that’s exactly what the criminals are hoping. The less they know, the less likely the trail is going to lead back to them.
Anyone involved in people trafficking is gaining from the desperate situations other humans find themselves in. And while eyebrows may be raised about industry awareness of people trafficking, there is a huge difference between being aware of this kind of activity and profiting from it.
But it’s a complicated issue. When the Essex lorry story first aired, it was generally assumed the driver was innocent. He was yet another unsuspecting driver who’d picked up an unaccompanied trailer only to find that trailer had effectively been turned into a coffin. (He has since pleaded guilty to plotting to assist illegal immigration and the case continues).
Then came the reports that the truck was operated and registered by a company in Bulgaria. In the road haulage industry this is not uncommon – and until a change in the law makes it easier to trade in Ireland, this will continue to happen.
The media took this information as ‘evidence’ and ran with it, but all that did was deflect attention from the real issue. That people traffickers are operating seemingly above the law and more often than not, getting away with it.
It’s the drivers, hauliers and shippers that are left to face the music. If they knew about the people smuggling, then it’s only right they do.
But that leaves those at the top of the criminal chain getting away with it time after time and continuing to do what they do.
It’s hard to find a solution, but isn’t it time we all tried a little harder to find that solution.