It’s afternoon and, as usual, I’m sitting outside at the Family Pub. I’m having a coffee and a fag and reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman (awesome book – way better that I expected). Geoff is here. He’s inside having a bite to eat before he leaves for the UK. He says that he should be back by Tuesday. I remind him that that’s Christmas Eve and he just shrugs it off.

“I mean, just listen to this crap.”

Slightly weird thing in Calais (is it all of Calais?…….yes, it is). On most lampposts there are speakers which play music from 10:00am to about 05:00pm every day. It’s not a radio station, there are no DJ’s chattering away, there are no public announcements or, God forbid, adverts. Just music, every day. Obviously, given the time of year, a lot of the music is Christmassy. That’s what Geoff is referring to with a dismissive wave of his hand. Anyway, before he goes in to eat, I give him my card and tell him to contact me when he gets back. Maybe we can have a meal or something to celebrate Christmas. I mean, we’re both on our own right? He says that he will and that he’ll also invite Tom, a Brit work colleague/friend.

Four people turn up. All are visibly, and very vocally, upset. Two guys and two women, all four with luggage. I hear them speak in Greek so ask them if they are from Greece. The oldest of the quartet, a woman, says that she’s from Crete. The two guys also say that they are Greeks, but they don’t look it. Something’s not right here. I tell the woman that I’m from Cyprus.

“Aaahh,” she says, “we are the same.”

I ask her if her friends are also from Crete. Turns that the other three are Albanians. They’ve just come from the port where they were trying to get into the UK. They were rejected by UK immigration officers.

A very long and convoluted conversation ensues. At first, they tell me that they’ve come from the airport. They had flights booked (and paid for) to the UK with EasyJet. However, the boarding staff at the gate turned them away because they didn’t believe/accept their travel docs and their story of going there for a vacation. When they protested that they had been cleared by French customs and that they had already paid for the flights, they were told that they could make a claim but would only get their VAT back.

By now, Geoff has joined us. He seems very confused by their story. He asks which airport. There is a Calais-Dunkerque airport, but there are no international flights from that airport. Not for the public anyway. It’s basically only used by people who have their own small aircrafts. He gets confusing answers. Finally, the woman from Crete tells us that it was Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. She says that the French customs officials were fine with their travel documents and that it was the EasyJet personnel who refused them entry onto the flight. The younger Albanian woman says that she was called a “fucking Albanian” by somebody from EasyJet. She’s furious about this.

Both Geoff and I are incredulous. We tell them that, if the French customs officers had let them through into departures, then no way could boarding staff from EasyJet refuse them. And they certainly couldn’t swear at them and basically abuse them.

Geoff is stumped. He wishes them good luck and leaves to catch his ferry back to the UK.

I continue talking to them. I ask more questions. They show me their travel docs. The Cretan woman and the older of the two Albanian guys tell me that they are a couple, that they are married. Which makes him an EU citizen. So, he shouldn’t have been prevented from travelling to the UK. I explain the intricacies of the Schengen Treaty and UK immigration law to them. He shows me his Greek ID card. They are not married. His card simply declares him as a member of the Cretan woman’s family. She insists that they had a civil wedding. The story slowly starts to unfold. And unravel.

The Cretan woman owns a bar/restaurant. The older Albanian guy works for her as a barista. They met some two years ago and, supposedly, a relationship developed. But, he wants to go to the UK. To live and work. And she’s helping him to do that. Strange relationship. Not exactly “romantic”.

The Albanian woman is a nurse. She also wants to live and work in the UK. She tried to get a work visa some time ago but all she got offered was a job which only lasted for one year. Obviously, this would not have gained her any kind of long-term residency in the UK so, she’s trying plan B. She met the younger Albanian guy a couple of months ago, in Albania. They got married. He has been living in Greece (in Athens I think) for a number of years and has full Greek, and by extension EU, citizenship. It didn’t seem like the younger Albanian guy, nor the Cretan woman for that matter, wanted to settle in the UK. It seemed like they were simply trying to get the other two into the country. Once in, they would no doubt vanish into the system.

The four of them had travelled from Athens to Paris where they had hoped to board the EasyJet flight to England as tourists. That fell through. From Paris they then boarded a coach bound for Dover, via the ferry, at Calais. This is where the whole thing collapsed. UK immigration held them for five hours while they checked and triple checked their stories. It was at this point that one of the immigration officers said to the Albanian woman “I see you fucking Albanians trying this stuff every day”, or words to that effect.

The Albanian woman showed me the immigration document which clearly stated that the officer believed that she had entered into a marriage of convenience with the sole intent of gaining entry into the UK. The document went on to say that neither she nor her “husband” were able to provide any sort of evidence which supported their claim that they were a couple.

So, what now?

The older Albanian guy has spent most of the time on his phone. He’s been talking to a family member in the UK. When I first met this group, he was saying that he would never go to the UK after the way that they had been treated. Actually, they were all saying the same thing. At first. When they were all pretending that they were tourists simply wanting a few days’ vacation in England. Now, he’s been trying to find ways for this family member to sponsor him to get a work permit or whatever. It seemed like that wasn’t panning out either.

Like Geoff, I wished them all good luck and left. As I was leaving, they told me that they were going to go back to Athens. I got the distinct impression that they were going to try to come up with some other ruse to gain entry into the UK.

I know that we humans have been migrating all over this planet since we learned how to walk. I know that, fundamentally, those migrations have been economic. Not economic in terms of money, we were nomads simply going where the herds were, where the water was, where the fruits were in season. I know about the evolution of humanity and the very important role that migration has played in that process. However, despite this knowledge and despite the fact that I myself am a first generation migrant whose life was moulded by the economic migration of my parents and their siblings, I still find it hard to accept what I saw and heard today.

It was all so blatantly illegal. And why the UK? It can’t be because of greater job opportunities. There are opportunities for all sorts of work throughout Europe. Is it purely because of our welfare system? Do all of these people still believe that the roads of the UK are paved in gold?