Dover becomes refugee camp

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The Independent Online
The Kent port of Dover and the M20 motorway at nearby Ashford yesterday turned into two giant refugee camps for around 1,000 international drivers and their lorries.

The stalemate in the talks in Paris to end the road blockade in France influenced the decision by the authorities in Kent to halt all further freight movement from English ports into France.

Drivers who had spent 12 hours - from 8pm on Tuesday night to 8am yesterday morning - getting to Dover learned their plans to cross to France would be on indefinite hold. As roads and freight car parks around Dover filled up, Kent police took the decision to halt all HGV lorries at junction 10 of the M20 near Ashford, 20 miles from Dover. Lorries were then directed to an emergency car park near Ashford international rail station, also not functioning normally as Channel tunnel operators Eurotunnel continued to argue with safety authorities that services should be allowed to resume following last week's fire.

All day yesterday Channel Tunnel Radio on 107.6FM was warning drivers of the potential delays and the diversions to Ashford. The decision of one DJ to play Supertramps' "Take the Long Way Home" would not have gone down well with some drivers facing severe delays.

There was also chaos at the port of Ramsgate with up to five miles of lorry tailbacks.

At Ashford lorries drivers from France, Greece, Germany, Turkey, Spain, Hungary and elsewhere, as well as Britain were told they would have to wait until the dispute in France ended, the blockade on French roads lifted and the road situation around Dover had eased.

In Dover freight car parks and the port's adjoining major roads were filled. At the terminal's Rendezvous Truck Stop restaurant, the Salvation Army, dispensing hot tea and sympathy, would not have looked out of place.

Martin Stiller, a lorry driver from Bruges in Belgium, said he arrived at Dover at 8am yesterday after a 12-hour wait only a few hours north of the port. Last week, to avoid the blockade, he had taken a ferry from Zeebrugge to the north of England, taking 16 hours. "Now I'm caught up trying to get back. The French drivers are taking the piss. It's their problem, why involve us?"

Willie Patterson from Dumfries, and his lorry cargo of "carpets, computers, two road sweepers and some ICI plastic wrapping" had managed to get to Calais, but was then brought back. "Sea France shipped three ferries full of HGVs back to Dover on Tuesday. In France it was hellish. All the bureaux de changes were closed. I'm a driver, but I feel all I've been for a week is babysitting this bloody lorry."

The ferry companies at Dover yesterday were trying to keep the stranded drivers informed of any development at the Paris talks. The rumours circulating last night ranged from hopes of a deal by midnight to nothing till next week.