Jumping on trucks to reach Britain: The day of the migrant

Mohammad Jaber and Jaber spend all day searching for the perfect truck. This afternoon, it feels like it might happen.

Jumping on trucks to reach Britain: The day of the migrant

The truck looks right. Their friend yells at them to jump. He sprints, grabs the truck between the cab & the cargo compartment and squeezes in. The truck does not stop so the driver isn't aware.

The truck and its towaway then vanish down a French road toward the English Channel tunnel. His friends hope he makes it to Britain.

Mohammad Jaber and Jaber, both young Sudanese refugees, escaped from war in their homeland, suffered kidnappings and beatings in Libya and crossed the dangerous Mediterranean to Italy. They are currently in Calais in northern France. Like hundreds of others mostly from East Africa or the Middle East, they are trying get to Britain through hiding in trucks. This has proven to be dangerous and potentially fatal.

Politicians from both sides of English Channel are debating how to stop them, after thousands crossed the English Channel by different means in recent months. This flow has been met with increased anti-immigrant rhetoric.

While some can afford to travel to Britain by small, cramped boats in dangerous waters, others can hop on one of the many thousands of trucks that pass every week between France and Britain.

Many Calais migrants want to move to the UK for economic opportunities or family and community ties. French authorities claim that another major draw is the lax British rules regarding migrants who do not have residency papers.

Truck-jumping is only for fit, young migrants who aren't burdened by their families. It is a team effort.

Five young men sat in a circle at Calais's muddy construction site watching trucks emerge from a warehouse on a cold autumnal day last week. A sixth young man was hiding close to the road.

The other men shouted at the truck's driver to get on board when he saw it.

Jumpers can use a code to identify which exiting truck they should grab onto.

"We tell them number 1, no, two, three, yes!" Mohammad said, revealing only his first name to avoid being arrested or expelled for illegally crossing borders.

Truck drivers make sure that no one gets into their trucks. They also stop to inform would-be stowaways that they aren't going to Britain and there is no reason to climb aboard. To deter men, police in patrol cars also stop by frequently, sirens blaring.

Jumpers must pay attention to the truck's route once they are aboard a rig. They will only need to follow a single sequence of left- and right-turning turns across the Channel. They can get off if the combination is not right, and they will start again.

Mohammad was able to board a truck twice without being noticed, but he had to jump off the truck when he realized that it wasn't going to the UK.

Some people ride in the space between cargo and cab. If they can open the doors, some climb into the cargo compartment.

Even if the vehicle is moving in the right direction there are still dangers and challenges for the stowaways. The Channel tunnel uses technology to scan trucks for body heat or moving shadows. Police force the stowaways out of their vehicles if they are found. Last year, more than 18,000 people were found in trucks. In 2021, 11,000 have been discovered.

Human rights activists and refugee advocacy groups have reported receiving calls from migrants arriving in refrigerated trucks claiming they are about to die of hypothermia or are suffocating. Some claim they were beaten up by the police after being caught.

People fall off moving trucks and sustain broken bones or other injuries. Late September saw Yasser Abdallah, a 20-year-old man, being crushed by a truck.

Abdallah had also fled Sudan. Abdallah dreamed of becoming a taxi driver in Britain. Calais' migrant community mourned him and more than 300 people marched in his honor a week later.

The marchers wrote an appeal to truck drivers asking: "When you see a refugee in a truck, shake it and brake repeatedly until you let go." We can continue our journey!

Truck jumpers keep trying.

They sleep under trees or in tents in the Calais forest at night. According to human rights activists, police raid the encampments every morning and arrest them, tear-gass them, and take their belongings.

Mohammad stated that some people are able to stay for a day, others for a week, and some for a month. He said that he can do it in four months or fifteen days. According to him and others, two to three people per day are successful in hoisting a truck to Britain.

Ahmad, a Sudanese truck-jumper aged 28, showed a reporter a TikTok clip that Yasser had died one day before. It was from an account by someone who got it across.

The video shows a man running by a blue and white truck and pulling himself up.

The video is overlayed with Arabic text, Union Jack, and two letters of the English alphabet: "UK".

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