Supply Chain Expertise and Technology Blog by TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson

Logistics Responses to Europe’s Migrant Crisis

The flood of migrants into Europe that began in 2015 continues to be a major international issue in 2016. How has the crisis affected the logistics of moving product across the region, especially at highly congested border crossings?

So far, we’ve found that the expected fallout in terms of higher transportation prices and operational disruptions has been relatively muted. However, that could change very quickly, and shippers need to keep a close eye on the situation and plan for contingencies.

An estimated one million refugees and migrants fled to Europe in 2015 [1]. The number of people admitted varies by country, with Germany taking the most migrants.

A number of countries have tried to control the influx by introducing stiffer border checks. For example, early in the new year, Denmark tightened its border controls with Germany, after Sweden had imposed similar measures [2].

Probably the most notable outcome from a logistics standpoint has occurred in Calais, France, where trucks headed for the Channel Tunnel to the United Kingdom were being boarded by migrants. Security procedures—including a requirement that trucks stop within a certain radius of Calais for inspection—were introduced by many shippers to prevent migrants from stealing aboard freight vehicles.

In a recent press release, Eurotunnel maintains that “buoyed by the new truck terminal security put in place in October 2015,” their Le Shuttle Freight service recorded a record year in 2015 [3]. The service carried some 1.5 million trucks in both directions between France and the United Kingdom last year.

Overall, however, the situation in Europe remains volatile and difficult to predict. And as the recent action taken by Denmark underlines, governments are apt to impose new restrictions that can make border crossings more complicated.

The increased complexity can cause delays and increase logistics costs. A less visible consequence is that more red tape at the borders could exacerbate the shortage of truck drivers in Europe as workers find it increasingly difficult to move freely between countries.

But there are ways to mitigate risks like these.

For example, be aware of the key border crossing points in Europe and where choke points are emerging. At present, the choke points tend to be where existing border controls—in the United Kingdom and France, for instance—have been tightened owing to the influx of migrants. But countries that do not have rigorous controls pose the greater risk of congestion, should the crisis worsen. For some 20 years, anyone in the 26 European countries located in the Schengen area (named after the town in Luxembourg where the agreement was signed), can move within this zone without interference from border controls. The crisis is eroding this agreement, and countries such as Denmark are being forced to introduce stringent border checks that inevitably cause delays.

Another mitigating strategy is to use transportation management system (TMS) technology to manage migrant-related supply chain risks on a number of fronts.

A TMS can be used to monitor carrier locations and adjust transit times in response to unforeseen disruptions. The ability to re-route cargo dynamically is a critical resource in an uncertain operating environment. In-transit delays can be analyzed and codified to identify trends and generate management reports.

For example, a report can provide details of the delay or redelivery costs associated with a shipment that needed to be disposed of owing to the presence of unauthorized personnel (i.e., migrants) on the trailer. This information helps shipping managers understand the costs of this type of risk.

TMC has used TMS technology to help a shipper enforce tighter security procedures around Calais. In such situations, the TMS monitors both the equipment used by carriers as well as their location to ensure driver compliance with “no-stop zones” mandated by shippers. Monitoring transportation in this way enables shippers to take corrective action before problems arise.

Let’s hope that in 2016 Europe finds solutions to their migrant crisis. Meanwhile, shippers and third party logistics providers need to monitor events in the region and deploy risk management strategies where and when they are needed.

[1] “Countries Under the Most Strain in the European Migration Crisis,” New York Times, December 22. 2015.
[2] “Denmark Responds to Swedish Border Checks with Own Controls,” BBC News, January 4, 2016.
[3] “Eurotunnel: Record Breaking Year for Le Shuttle,” Eurotunnel press release, 23 December, 2015.

- Director, Europe, Middle East, Africa (EMEA)
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