Illegal immigrants kept in cold storage – at minus 23C

Canterbury, Kent, UK: Sixteen illegal immigrants were found in a refrigerated truck running at -23 degrees at a check at Coquelles, near Calais, by immigration officers.

Prosecutor Donna East told Canterbury Crown Court they were “trapped inside” unable to open the door. She said that had the truck not been stopped by immigration officials the “consequences could have been dire”.

A 23-year-old Lithuanian driver, Redas Raukis was driving the Ashford-bound refrigeration lorry carrying frozen desserts. Raukis, who needed a translator for the 15-minute hearing, was jailed for four years after he admitted smuggling the people into the UK.

Ed Burge, defending, said Raukis, who is the father of a four-year-old child, needed money for his wedding planned for later this year. He said he had been offered £1,000 per person to bring three people to Britain and was surprised that 16 had been smuggled onboard when he stopped in France.

He said the danger to the 16 was “minimal” as they had been given sleeping bags. They also had Raukis’s mobile number in case of emergency. He also disputed the -23C temperature reading.

But Judge Nigel van der Bijl said although no one had suffered there had been “a clear risk that people inside might have suffered from hypothermia or other illnesses.”

Clandestine immigration is not a new problem but it is getting worse for the cold chain sector as people smuggling gangs actively target temperature controlled vehicles, according to the Border Agency.

Some companies now operate operates an exclusion zone of 100km or more around the channel ports in which drivers may not stop for rest or meal breaks

Feedback from the Border Agency shows fridge trailers are targeted in preference to curtainsiders or tilts and instances where immigrants, provided with thermal protective clothes, have travelled in frozen loads are not unusual.