independent

Thursday 22 August 2019

A chilling measure of the desperation felt by some

MARIA PEPPER

THE DISCOVERY last week of three young Afghan stowaways in the back of a container truck that travelled through Rosslare Harbour was a shuddering reminder of a heartbreaking tragedy that shocked Wexford to its core almost ten years ago.

The bodies of eight Turkish people, among them four children, along with five barely-alive survivors, were found lying among boxes of office furniture in a container opened at Drinagh Business Park on December 8, 2001.

The nature of the discovery was so alien that emergency service representatives who arrived at the scene were initially baffled when the bodies were removed from the truck and laid side by side on sheets of plastic.

It took some time for the human nightmare to sink in - that these were people from a foreign country were so desperate for a better life that they endured a frightening and lonely journey in the back of a lorry for several days with little water or food, to come to Ireland where the Celtic Tiger was just getting into its stride.

The tragedy briefly shocked people out of a materialistic complacency and by horrific contrast, made them feel more appreciative of what they had, as an outpouring of compassion was extended towards the bereaved and the survivors, who included Kadriye Kalendergil, whose husband Hasan and children Kalender and Zeliha died beside her from a lack of oxygen.

There were expressions of anger and calls for measures to ensure that another coffin truck would never again be opened in Wexford, where there is a permanent reminder of the deaths in the form of a memorial in Drinagh Business Park.

Yet this week, three men from Afghanistan are lucky to be alive after spending four days locked in the back of a lorry that arrived in Rosslare from Cherbourg after a gruelling trip across Europe.

Their life-threatening ordeal ended when the truck driver opened the vehicle at Tom Doyle Supplies in Camolin to unload delivery of goods from Italy. The young men tried to run from the lorry but Gardai caught up with them.

After being given food and water, they were detained overnight in New Ross Garda Station before being handed over to the Immigration Unit in Rosslare, to be escorted back to Cherbourg.

This latest incident has happened at a different time in Ireland, now in the grips of an economic recession and lamenting the legal emigration of thousands of its own citizens in the hope of finding better prospects abroad.

It's ironic that in the midst of continuing complaints about our newly redisovered poverty, people from more severely impoverished countries still view our standard of living and our freedoms with envy and will risk their lives to avail of the better chances and opportunities here.

Garda Chief Superintendent John Roche of Wexford confirmed this week that barely a week goes by that immigration officers do not find stowaways in container trucks coming into Rosslare Harbour.

The problem is continuing one, not just in Rosslare but at ports around the country, he said, with many of the illegal immigrants coming from North Africa.

It tells us that poverty and desperation levels are relative and that if we look at our predicament through a wider lens, we may have many more reasons to be grateful than we think.

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