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The British International Freight Association (Bifa) has warned that the future of cross-Channel freight, the UK’s most important supply chain link, is under threat following the latest bout of running battles between French police and illegal immigrants attempting to board UK-bound trucks.

Bifa director general Robert Keen said: “Over the years, we have become accustomed to seeing chaotic pictures in the media, but the recent scenes are the worst we have ever witnessed.

“Our members’ cross-Channel trailer services are being directly targeted by the migrants, putting the security of drivers, vehicles and customers’ loads at risk.

“This can cause long delays to the scheduled arrival times of trucks in our members’ depots, jeopardise the delivery of freight for their customers and cause huge inefficiencies in their transport planning,” he said.

Although Bifa members often subcontract haulage services to truck operators whose vehicles are targeted by clandestines, as illegal immigrants are often known, road transport representatives said that driver feedback indicated that breaking into trucks was on the rise, with growing aggression towards truck drivers.

The UK’s Road Haulage Association (RHA) said the “recent increases in clandestine incidents and attacks on truck drivers at the Channel ports suggest that the French police need urgent support to protect travellers at both Calais and Coquelles”.

Mr Keen added: “Without action now from the authorities in France and the UK, I believe there is a good chance that if the situation continues, international transport sub-contractors will start to refuse to operate on the cross-Channel market, due to the personal and financial risks that they and their staff are now taking,” he said.

RHA head of international affairs Peter Cullum said: “Recent reports of French police harshness against immigrants, if true, suggest that the situation is not under control. We suspected that recent events in the Mediterranean would make things worse in the Pas de Calais, but we cannot accept bad security at the ports and on port approaches.

“Static security, such as fencing, has improved at the ferry port, but there is no substitute for “boots on the ground”. Truck security, though important, is only part of the solution. Increasing clandestine numbers require more crowd control.

“Last week we asked the Home Office to take urgent action to protect UK hauliers, but ultimately this is an issue for the French authorities,” he said.

Bifa added its voice to those lobbying British and French governments to step up their response to the growing crisis.

“With ever-increasing traffic between continental Europe and the UK, we are pressing the authorities to step up their protection of the routes across the Channel and fulfill their obligations to let trade move unhindered before serious damage is done to this strategic freight route,” said Mr Keen.

Freight traffic reached record levels last year, according to figures from the port of Calais, with the 42.7m tonnes of cross-Channel freight processed representing an increase of 5% on 2013, and “beating the record years of 2006 and 2007”.

The number of trucks grew 10% to reach 1,821,246.

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