Agents of the UK Border Force removed a passenger from our coach at the port of Calais on our way to the Dover ferry. Two weeks ago, without a valid passport or any other form of photographic identification, I travelled from Dublin to Brussels. I made the journey by coach because neither Ryanair nor Aer Lingus would permit me to travel with an expired passport, and unable to wait for a new one to be sent to me I made the decision to take the bus. My out-of-date passport – which is invalid for travel – was inspected at Holyhead, Victoria Station in London, by the British and French authorities at the Channel Tunnel, and at the same points on the way home today, and no one once spotted that it was a dud. Naively I had imagined that, as we are supposed to be members of the European Union, there would be no border controls, but there were. On both sides of the water we passed large encampments of migrants and – more disturbingly – police holding cages filled with human beings; men, women, and children. Today, after leaving Brussels, and after passing through Belgium and France, British border police removed a young black woman from our coach. She was stopped at passport control, taken aside and interrogated, then paraded to the coach to collect her luggage, and taken away.
Once everyone else was on board the coach we sat idling until the very last moment before we had to drive aboard the ferry. During this time the driver of the bus, a sturdy big chap from The Hague, made his way up and down the isle of the bus counting us passengers, and making the odd trip back and forth from the border police office behind us. When the time grew near for us to get onto the boat, and as people were getting restless, as he made another trip up the isle counting passengers, someone asked why we were still waiting. He returned to the front of the bus and lifting the microphone stated firmly: “We are waiting on one more passenger,” and the bus exploded with applause. Every day this driver passes through the same dystopia, same nightmare, and still he held firm in the hope that he would be able to take all of his passengers to the end of their journey. He was the image of real integrity; he stood out in what had become for us the bleak reality of modern Europe as a human being with real and solid character. Once in London, after crossing the north coast of Europe without valid travel documents, I told him as much. At a time like this Europe needs more saintly people.