What happened on Sunday morning was in many respects just another day for the Police who joined us at the roadside. But for us, and for the two lads we stumbled across on the A303 last Sunday morning, it was a very unique experience.
My partner and I set off on a normal journey along the A303, round the M25, then north on the M1. We were going to be back later that day but were not in a rush. Armed with a Costa coffee each, we set off up the A34.
A short while later, I turned off too soon and we found ourselves heading West, when I wanted to be going East. Mildly annoyed, we didn’t have far to go before we could come off the dual carriageway and turn around. But we were on that road for a reason.
As we took the off-ramp, we noticed two lads walking on the side of the road. They had nothing with them. They were clearly out of place and so I stopped. After a brief discussion with my partner about phoning the police, I reversed back up the road and they approached the car on the passenger side.
We said hello, and in their very poor English, they replied: ‘Police?’.
For the first time in my life we had stumbled across two illegal immigrants who had literally just got off the lorry they had stowed away on. We gave them our coats, scarves and whatever food we could find and phoned 999.
By the time the Police arrived after 30 minutes we had managed to communicate enough to know their names, where they were from and their ages (they said they were 15). We also discovered they didn’t like Pret tuna salads.
Watching the Police communicate through Google Translate just didn’t seem right, but thank goodness for technology. First he checked if they had coughs (they didn’t). Then he wanted to check what language they spoke (they understood Arabic). When the Police Constable told them they were detained under the Immigration Act, at least were able to witness it. They knew nothing of what was about to happen apart from being told that they were on their way to the station. To be honest, they would probably have gone anywhere warm.
After the first Police vehicle arrived, so to did a second, and then a third. I’m not sure two young lads shivering in the cold, protected only by ragged clothes and meagre offerings from us, really warranted the attention, but they came all the same.
And then, after an hour and as a final act, a Police van arrived to take the two lads to Basingstoke Police Starion and into the hands of the Home Office’s Immigration Department. After spending that time trying to keep them warm and reassure them that they were safe, they were put into the back of the van and were gone in a minute. They had given us back our clothes. They knew their manners; I think their parents would be proud of them.
What fate lies ahead for the two lads, whose names I will not share here, who knows? But whatever it is, they deserve a chance in life. I hope that through our small act of compassion, we have given them some hope that people do care. Whether the immigration system will give them the chance they need, so they can start their lives again, is the burning question on my mind.
But we did what we could. And after watching the thousands of migrants pouring out of Ukraine at the moment, it felt the right thing to do. Nobody would go through that kind of journey unless they were desperate.