…well, altogether I had to endure seven controls in order to get some dinner!
So here is another border story: since I travel a lot and thus cross borders all the time – six last week – there often is something to reflect on. This time it is Calais (France) ferry port border.
On 7 June I went from Germany to UK by car; there were some sort of controls on the border between the Netherlands and Germany, so on the German side. There were long queues and felt reminded of the past, the pre-Schengen times, when entering another country almost made you feeling bad whilst the queuing and sometimes questioning made you feeling uncomfortable.
Anyway, on arrival at Calais ferry I passed through double fences, barbed wire, huge gates and labyrinthine driving paths that more resemble ‘Fortress Europe’ than many external border crossings, even though this is still within the EU. I then faced the usual set of controls. First, there is the ferry line check-in, car number plate, number of passengers and passport control. Second, there is the French border control where passports are checked on exit (why is exit an issue?). And third there is the UK border and thus entry control; it now seems self-explaining and unquestioned that these are conducted on French soil and 40 or so kilometres off the British Isles.
So far, so good. Once I arrived at the appropriate waiting lane and parked the car I was in the mood for some dinner. So I went to the seemingly brand new in-port terminal building. On entry there was a small queue; the cause of this was a control point, a guy, I can’t tell whether he was a French or British official or a private security, checking passports and boarding passes. But the bigger surprise awaited me after I left the restaurant. On announcement that drivers and passengers should get back to their cars for boarding the ferry I left only to get stuck in a huge queue down the stairs. The reason for this, however, was not only that off course all passengers left the restaurant at the same time. It was rather caused by an airport-like security check, bags through the x-ray machine, belts off, ‘empty your pockets’ and so on; next came a French border control post and then a UK border control post. At the French post there was non-EU passenger ahead of me having some issue with the passport; it seems it wasn’t stamped on entering the port and thus on exiting France. The passenger argued something like’ there was no control’ and the border police murmured friendly something like ‘lack of staff’.
What is so puzzling is that because I had already passed port, French and UK border controls I assumed I was in the usual transit zone, just as at any comparable airport. But then there were these additional boarding pass, security and passport controls within the transit zone. It felt like moving from the usual sitting area at the airport to the surrounding restaurants though here additional controls were conducted just as if moving from the sitting to the eating area and back involves crossing another border. In order to get from car to restaurant I apparently had to re-enter France, whereas it seems that in order to get back to my car I had to re-enter the UK, all within the highly secured port area. Thus it seems that this restaurant is either situated in some double-extraterritorial location, which for culinary reasons might make sense, or it is considered a French island in the extraterritorial transit zone. None of this, however, was explained in any way by signs or staff.
In any case, there is a loop of controls at Calais ferry port. These are a real nuisance and hugely cumbersome. First, the additional queuing and waiting is causing additional stress because passengers weren’t aware of these delays and thus got nervous in getting back to their cars on time for boarding. Second, these extra controls are resources and staff intensive, there were an additional four control points, three desks and the x-ray machine, and 7 or 8 extra staff. Third, it is entirely unclear and in no way explained to travellers why these are considered necessary; once through ticket and border controls one would assume that the port is like a transit zone at least within which passengers can move freely.
To me this occurs to be yet an(other) example of a particular unnecessary and inefficient control of UK Border Agency and French Frontier Police not adding much to security but rather harassing travellers. It might well be, though I don’t actually know, that all this is on request of UK BA because it is the UK insisting on controls before people get anywhere near the British Isles. In any case it seems to me a ridiculous and unpleasant piece of bureaucracy.