French authorities closed the border in response to a faster-spreading coronavirus strain found in the United Kingdom. The border reopens Wednesday.
Over 2,850 truckers are stranded in Dover, England, as of Tuesday evening after France shut its border to the United Kingdom, reports the BBC. France closed its border in response to a faster-spreading variant of the novel coronavirus discovered in the U.K., leaving European truckers hoping to return home for the holidays without a way to do so.
The lengthy queue to leave southeast England has been growing since Sunday, when the border to France was shut down. France agreed Tuesday to allow some traffic in starting on Wednesday so long as travelers present a negative coronavirus test taken 72 hours before their departure. Those allowed over include anyone traveling due to “urgent” reasons, including freight drivers as well as residents and citizens of the mainland European Union, per the BBC.
Trucks waiting to cross the border into France.
not enough food, not enough toilets and showers
In the meantime, truckers stuck in line complain that the border wasn’t prepared for this, as they’ve been left there without adequate access to basics like food, water, toilets or showers. Drivers told Reuters that they are exhausting the food and other supplies they typically carry with them onboard, and many don’t even have a solid answer as to why they’re stuck there.
Spanish truck driver Sergio Robles told Reuters, as translated from Spanish:
“They don’t give us food, they don’t give us drinks, they don’t give us sanitation, they don’t offer us anything. The situation is basically inhumane, so what we are asking for is a solution.”
“I think and believe that this happening now isn’t due to coronavirus or anything, it’s due to Brexit, due to internal politics or something of that manner.”
Many drivers have been diverted to an airport in nearby Manston, where the runway has been converted to a parking lot to hold more trucks that are stuck at the border, The Guardian reports. There, protests have erupted among drivers blaring their horns, demanding answers as to why they’re there, and what will happen.
Phil Holton, who serves as operations director for the U.K. trucking firm DWP and Sons, and employs drivers who are stuck in the long border line, told The Guardian that drivers are now digging holes to use as makeshift toilets because there simply aren’t enough facilities for drivers to use. “They should have put in some form of toilet facility every 500 yards because, at the moment, there is nothing,” Holton said.
Others have had better luck finding toilets, but other basic services are still few and far between.
“We can find a toilet, at a gas station or something, but we don’t have showers and stuff,” Polish driver Caspar Pecherzewski told The Guardian. “No one is saying anything about how long we will be here. The police just told us to wait.” Pecherzewski has been stuck in line since Sunday waiting to leave the U.K.
German driver Ronald Schroeder was lucky enough to find one of the few hotel rooms available, but even there, things are pretty dire.
“The problems of the drivers who are not already in hotels is huge – in my hotel, three buses are renting just one room to have a toilet and a shower,” Schroeder told The Guardian. “The situation becomes worse every hour.”
Drivers are understandably livid, especially as those who live further from the border realize that they won’t be able to make it home in time to spend Christmas with their families now.
“We are upset and we don’t know why we have to be in this situation,” Romanian truck driver Dan Jinca told Reuters. “They say it is about corona. We don’t know. We think … it is bullshit, big, big bullshit.”
Even if authorities allowed the drivers to pass through the border now, Jinca says he will still miss Christmas for the first time in his seven years as a truck driver.
“Now it is done, it is finished. From here to go home we have about 2,000 miles,” Jinca continued. “It is about 45 hours to drive non-stop – no sleep, just drive. We can’t make it.”
The British government and Kent Resilience Forum claimed in a joint statement that help is on the way to the Manston airport as well as the road to the port, as quoted by The Guardian:
“Food, toilets and water are available for hauliers along the M20 and at Manston, with more food trucks expected to arrive at Manston shortly. There are more than adequate health and welfare provisions available, with nearly 150 toilets and urinals at Manston and portable toilets every 1 km on the M20 between junctions 10a-11. Seventy additional toilets will arrive at Manston tomorrow morning.”
Additionally, British authorities are deploying NHS and the military to aid with testing truckers looking to cross the French border, the BBC reports.
However, it’s clear from what truckers are saying that conditions are anything but adequate.
“We are the transport that moves the world, so to say. And they treat us badly,” Robles told Reuters. “They treat us as if we are garbage. We don’t get to spend Christmas at home, not with family or children or anything. I think there’s nothing right in all of this.”