Stories of refugees embarking on perilous journeys in search of a better life echo those of an incident that shook the Wexford community and made international headlines in 2001.
In one of Wexford’s blackest days, the bodies of eight refugees, including three children, were found dead in a freight container in Drinagh Business Park, not far outside Wexford town.
With them were five survivors who were found unconscious and in a critical condition before being taken to Wexford General Hospital. Although thee five made a miraculous recovery following a 5-day journey in a sealed container, their family and friends had tragically died in circumstances almost too terrible for words.
The horrific discovery was made by a lorry driver who had collected the container from Belview Port in Waterford. The truck, which was carrying furniture from Milan, then travelled 60km east to Wexford Business Park in Drinagh where the driver heard noises coming from the container. It was then that he discovered what was later described by Garda Supt John Farrelly as ‘a nightmare of human misery’.
Details of the tragic incident soon emerged. Among the 13 stowaways found inside the truck was Karadede Guler, a cleaner from Turkey with his 28-year-old wife, Saniye, and their two children, Imam and Bekan. They had fled Turkey in late 2001, seeking a new life in western Europe. They sold everything they owned to pay traffickers who promised to take them where they wanted to go.
The Gular family had travelled from Turkey to Brussels, where they were joined by families from Algeria and Turkey chasing the same dream. There, Karadede Guler paid €15,000 to a 21-year-old Serbian man to transport his family to Britain in a sealed freight container with only four small openings for oxygen.
Mr. Gular, who was earning only €40 a month in his own country, had hoped to find a better home for his family.
His plans were cruelly shattered. His wife and two children did not survive the tortuous 100-hour journey. Hasan Kalendergil, his 12-year-old son, Kalender, and 10-year-old daughter, Zeliha were also amongst the dead, as were 26-year-old Yuksel Ucaroglu and 23-year-old Mustafa Demir.
As details unfolded of the plight of the 13 refugees, the nation stood to attention. In Masses throughout Wexford and beyond, people mourned the deaths of those who sought nothing more than a better life for themselves and their families. Amidst the sorrow came widespread public outrage, as everyone wondered how such a horrific incident could be allowed to happen. The feeling was unanimous: we can’t let this happen again.
An ounce of hope remained for the five survivors of the tragedy as the Irish community welcomed them in as their own. However, it clearly wasn’t the end of the nightmare for the many thousands of others seeking safety.
Ten years after the shocking incident in Drinagh, the problem of human trafficking through Rosslare remained. This was highlighted in April 2011, when three young Afghan men were found in a distressed and ill state following a four-day journey in the back of a truck.
The stowaways, who had boarded the truck in Italy, were unaware of their whereabouts. After being given food and water in Gorey Garda Station, they spent the night in New Ross Garda Station before being handed over to the Immigration Unit in Rosslare for repatriation to Cherbourg.
Commenting on the incident at the time, Wexford Garda Chief Superintendent John Roche said the Garda Immigration Unit at Rosslare Harbour were returning illegal immigrants on a regular basis. He said that, despite the best efforts of the Gardaí, the issue was ongoing.
Fastforward to 2015 where we are still witnessing atrocious incidents taking place on our doorstep.
The discovery of the bodies of 71 refugees in a truck in Austria several weeks ago was an incident hauntingly similar to the Wexford tragedy over a decade before.
Last week, images flashed on TV screens, social media and in newspapers across the world of lifeless three-year-old Aylan Kurdi on the shore of Kos brought the issue to a new emotional high, sparking a new wave of calls and demands for something to be done.
Avril Doyle, former MEP from Wexford, vividly recalls the events of 2001, which at the time, she said was ‘a tragedy waiting to happen, given our proximity to both the ports of Rosslare and Waterford’. Over a decade on, she feels that not enough has been done to ensure it won’t happen again.
‘We can never say it will never happen again. If you are desperate enough, you will take every risk to get to safety,’ she said.
(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/the-migrant-crisis-we-have-been-here-before-31516372.html)