By Juliette Jabkhiro
GRANDE-SYNTHE, France (Reuters) – Police on Tuesday tore down a makeshift camp near the northern French port of Dunkirk where scores of migrants who say they are fleeing war, poverty and persecution in the Middle East were hunkered down with hopes of reaching Britain.
Armed officers entered the camp, which runs along a disused railway line, before workers in protective suits pulled down tents and plastic shelters.
Charity workers say the 27 migrants who drowned in the Channel last Wednesday had stayed in the same area before they attempted the perilous sea crossing from France to Britain last Wednesday. Their dinghy deflated in the open sea.
The number of migrants crossing the Channel has surged to 25,776 in 2021, up from 8,461 in 2020 and 1,835 in 2019, according to tallies compiled by the BBC using Home Office data.
The spike in numbers has angered Britain, which accuses France of doing too little to stem the flow. Paris says that once migrants reach the shores of the channel, it is too late to prevent them crossing.
French police routinely tear up the camps that spring up between Calais and Dunkirk. Evictions at the Grande-Synthe site had been taking place on a weekly basis for the past few weeks, one charity worker said.
The migrants are typically transported to holding centers scattered across the country where they are encouraged to file for asylum, though many quickly make their way back to the Channel coast.
Hussein Hamid, 25, an Iranian Kurd, said it was the second time he had been evicted. On the first occasion, he was bussed to Lyon 760km to the south.
Hamid tried to leave the camp swiftly by foot, carrying a backpack, but said the police had blocked any way out.
An Iraqi Kurd told Reuters by text message that he was hiding nearby while the police conducted their operation.
“I’ll come back if they don’t find me,” he said, requesting anonymity to avoid police reprisals.
President Emmanuel Macron on Friday told Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “get serious” in the effort to curb migrant flows, as post-Brexit relations between their governments deteriorate.
(Reporting by Judith Jabkhiro; Writing by Richard Lough, Editing by Alex Richardson and Ed Osmond)