Truck driver turns in refugees, gets hefty fine

Risto Berendson
, reporter
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Photo: Raul Vinni / Saarte Hääl

In the eyes of Andres Tammel, transport business from Saaremaa, British border guards did him plain wrong by fining the firm €3,300 for carrying illegal immigrants. Though his Estonian truck driver turned the people in at port, the Brits say try and prove it – after the event.

«Ah well I did pay the fine, already,» said the small businessman Mr Tammel. «I could have contested the Englishmen and I stood a small chance to win, but one thing was certain – fee for the lawyer. I don’t need that...»

At its website, Estonian international truck drivers association ERAA explains how to reduce the threat of illegal migrants entering the vehicle. Mr Tammel’s company is far from the only one struck with the problem.

«About once in a year we hear somebody from Estonia is in trouble again, with the illegal ones,» says ERAA secretary general Toivo Kuldkepp.

Alas, the small Saaremaa company AMK Grupp, one vehicle of which transports stuff in Europe and the other at home, had to pay severe «school fee».

It happened last year, on September 2nd, in cargo port at Calais, France on route towards Britain. Mr Tammel’s truck drivin’ man was headed to Dover, carrying electric cables used in airplane and machine building.

The DAF-type vehicle with Estonian number plate, while entering the port, did the routine check. At Calais, the refugee problem is vast – sneaking into vehicles, they are trying to get to UK. The vehicles being in the thousands, physically looking into each van is plain simply impossible. Therefore, the trucks are X-rayed as they enter port. Or else, a device detecting heartbeats is stuck in the van.

In the Saaremaa firm truck, nothing was discovered. «While in the port, already, the driver got the gut feeling: I must check,» says Mr Tammel. «As he looked in, three pairs of eyes returned the gaze.»

The driver slammed the door shut and called the port security. First, it were the French who dealt with him; soon, however, the English arrived to formalise documents as the offence was under their jurisdiction. «Honestly, I don’t get it why they have the jurisdiction like that,» says Mr Tammel.

Formally, the driver was not guilty in anything – as if. The refugees had not entered the van from a side, but via a hole cut into the top. Meaning: the Estonian had not broken the rules.

The driver did, of course, suspect where the guys crept in. Only one spot was the option – about five kilometres to the port, there’s a 24 h store where the driver briefly stopped to get some cans of Belgian beer. «A couple of minutes’ stop, and all told the beer proved damn expensive,» smiles Mr Tammel.

Even so, while setting the issue at the port, no-one knew to foresee such a development.

Surprise struck as, in February, the company got notice from UK border guard of having been fined £800 per refugee, plus £100 for the driver. Multiplied by three, that was £2,700 which makes about €3,300.

What amazed the entrepreneur was a claim by the Brits that the refugees were discovered after the Estonian truck caught their attention. Also, they said there was no evidence the owner had taught his driver how to avoid cases like that – the van lacked a safety rope restricting entry from the side etc.

Safety rope missing was just a formal-legal claim to justify the fine. The people had entered from the roof – not the sides which the driver had secured by plastic fastenings used in construction. «Even at the port, they told the driver that here the ropes would have been no good,» says Mr Tammel.

The company was not about to accept the unjust judgement. Mr Tammel contested the Brits, asking for review of the penalty and a just decision. It was the driver who found the travellers, not British border guards.

At the beginning of April, the reply came: appeal rejected.

Mr Tammel then had recourse to foreign ministry and Estonian embassy in London. To avoid payment of fine, he was told, a lawyer ought to be hired. «Loads of red tape in England, and that’d mean loss of lots of time and money. Easier to pay the fine,» says Mr Tammel.

ERAA says it’s so sad how the Brits don’t listen to reason, eager to fine drivers full blast. «They do not let the refugees in on purpose. By fining them, the English clearly picked the path of least resistance,» says ERAA secretary General Mr Kuldkepp.

In the eyes of Andres Tammel, transport business from Saaremaa, British border guards did him plain wrong by fining the firm €3,300 for carrying illegal immigrants. Though his Estonian truck driver turned the people in at port, the Brits say try and prove it – after the event.

«Ah well I did pay the fine, already,» said the small businessman Mr Tammel. «I could have contested the Englishmen and I stood a small chance to win, but one thing was certain – fee for the lawyer. I don’t need that...»

At its website, Estonian international truck drivers association ERAA explains how to reduce the threat of illegal migrants entering the vehicle. Mr Tammel’s company is far from the only one struck with the problem.

«About once in a year we hear somebody from Estonia is in trouble again, with the illegal ones,» says ERAA secretary general Toivo Kuldkepp.

Alas, the small Saaremaa company AMK Grupp, one vehicle of which transports stuff in Europe and the other at home, had to pay severe «school fee».

It happened last year, on September 2nd, in cargo port at Calais, France on route towards Britain. Mr Tammel’s truck drivin’ man was headed to Dover, carrying electric cables used in airplane and machine building.

The DAF-type vehicle with Estonian number plate, while entering the port, did the routine check. At Calais, the refugee problem is vast – sneaking into vehicles, they are trying to get to UK. The vehicles being in the thousands, physically looking into each van is plain simply impossible. Therefore, the trucks are X-rayed as they enter port. Or else, a device detecting heartbeats is stuck in the van.

In the Saaremaa firm truck, nothing was discovered. «While in the port, already, the driver got the gut feeling: I must check,» says Mr Tammel. «As he looked in, three pairs of eyes returned the gaze.»

The driver slammed the door shut and called the port security. First, it were the French who dealt with him; soon, however, the English arrived to formalise documents as the offence was under their jurisdiction. «Honestly, I don’t get it why they have the jurisdiction like that,» says Mr Tammel.

Formally, the driver was not guilty in anything – as if. The refugees had not entered the van from a side, but via a hole cut into the top. Meaning: the Estonian had not broken the rules.

The driver did, of course, suspect where the guys crept in. Only one spot was the option – about five kilometres to the port, there’s a 24 h store where the driver briefly stopped to get some cans of Belgian beer. «A couple of minutes’ stop, and all told the beer proved damn expensive,» smiles Mr Tammel.

Even so, while setting the issue at the port, no-one knew to foresee such a development.

Surprise struck as, in February, the company got notice from UK border guard of having been fined £800 per refugee, plus £100 for the driver. Multiplied by three, that was £2,700 which makes about €3,300.

What amazed the entrepreneur was a claim by the Brits that the refugees were discovered after the Estonian truck caught their attention. Also, they said there was no evidence the owner had taught his driver how to avoid cases like that – the van lacked a safety rope restricting entry from the side etc.

Safety rope missing was just a formal-legal claim to justify the fine. The people had entered from the roof – not the sides which the driver had secured by plastic fastenings used in construction. «Even at the port, they told the driver that here the ropes would have been no good,» says Mr Tammel.

The company was not about to accept the unjust judgement. Mr Tammel contested the Brits, asking for review of the penalty and a just decision. It was the driver who found the travellers, not British border guards.

At the beginning of April, the reply came: appeal rejected.

Mr Tammel then had recourse to foreign ministry and Estonian embassy in London. To avoid payment of fine, he was told, a lawyer ought to be hired. «Loads of red tape in England, and that’d mean loss of lots of time and money. Easier to pay the fine,» says Mr Tammel.

ERAA says it’s so sad how the Brits don’t listen to reason, eager to fine drivers full blast. «They do not let the refugees in on purpose. By fining them, the English clearly picked the path of least resistance,» says ERAA secretary General Mr Kuldkepp.

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