“Never in my 25 years…” says my flabbergasted German removal man, Frank, as he recounts the actions of a group of migrants who jimmied the lock of his truck and hid inside. They were hoping to find safe passage from Calais to Dover in the comfort of my boxes – my entire life, really – which were en route with me to London from Berlin. In Calais, two of the stowaways were caught by the French and three more by UK police stationed at the second border checkpoint (the latter were apparently far more professional, armed with sensors to detect heat signatures) before the truck finally boarded a ferry six hours later.
The whole episode made me reflect on what makes the UK attractive – so attractive that people would risk their lives to come here. It’s a counterpoint to my German friends who heard about my move and said, “You’re moving to London? Well, that’s brave of you.” The research is mixed but it seems that migrants often cite the UK as a destination for simple reasons such as language, family or community ties, or because it remains an attractive place to work – reports suggest that job opportunities and social benefits are more accessible than in France.
As Brexit negotiations enter their final stages (a crucial EU summit to determine the UK’s future will be held on Thursday and Friday), it’s worth stepping back and remembering that many people move for more fundamental reasons than their political proclivities. They move to escape conflict, join family or friends or find a job. Not everyone has the luxury to reflect on politicking or colourful leaders’ ever-changing stances, pledges and promises – certainly not the people who stowed away in my boxes.