Armed French police smashed up a Dunkirk migrant camp today along a disused railway line as thousands of desperate refugees hoped of landing in the UK.
Officers forced the migrants to leave before workers in protective suits started hauling down tents and bivouacs near Loon Beach – a well known launching port for small dinghies favoured by smuggling gangs.
Police have booted migrants out of their camps on an almost weekly basis for the last few weeks, taking them to holding centres hundreds of miles away – but they often end up back on the Channel coast.
More than 1,500 were cleared two weeks ago from the ‘New Jungle’ camp outside Dunkirk which had been likened to the infamous Jungle near Calais, similar in both its size and squalor.
The migrants, most of them from the Middle East and Africa, remain intent on making the perilous crossing despite last week’s disaster that saw 27 people drown after their dinghy deflated in the frigid sea.
The number crossing the Channel has surged to 25,776 in 2021, up from 8,461 in 2020 and 1,835 in 2019, according to Home Office data.
Boris Johnson doesn’t think the French are doing enough and became embroiled in a bitter row with Emmanuel Macron last week that saw Home Secretary Priti Patel uninvited from a summit in Calais.
Mr Macron last Friday warned the Prime Minister to ‘get serious’ if he wanted to tackle the crisis, however the French President last night backed down and agreed to hold new talks.
This despite Miss Patel pledging £55 million to Paris in June to help France patrol the border – the latest in a long line of similar lump sums provided by the UK taxpayer.
Migrants gather as French police officers dismantle their makeshift camp at Loon Beach near Dunkirk on Tuesday
Migrants from the Middle East and North Africa are booted from their squalid camp near Dunkirk on Tuesday
Migrants were camped along disused railway tracks and beside canal near Dunkirk
Armed cops clear the migrants from the camp on Tuesday
While Britain accuses France of failing to stem the flow, France claims 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 where evictions took place today have been raking place in a steady stream over the last few weeks, according to one charity worker.
The migrants are typically transported to holding centres 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 500 miles 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.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex will write to Boris Johnson on Tuesday with proposals for a ‘balanced agreement’ between the UK and the EU, as the two sides resume talks.
But France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin launched yet another attack on the UK and said discussions could take place ‘very quickly’ – but only if Britain stopped engaging in ‘double-speak’ and entered negotiations in a ‘serious spirit’.
On Monday, Darmanin suggested the letter was an example of UK ministers communicating differently in public than they were in private in yet another ratcheting up of tensions.
French police officers gather as they dismantle a makeshift migrant camp at Loon Beach near Dunkirk
Migrants gather as French police officers dismantle a makeshift migrant camp at Loon Beach near Dunkirk
Migrants gather as French police officers dismantle their makeshift camp at Loon Beach near Dunkirk
Anger over the letter saw Macron banning Miss Patel from attending a Calais summit on the Channel migrant crisis at the weekend.
But France’s latest suggestion that talks with the UK could resume is a climbdown by Paris.
A UK government source said it appeared to be a ‘positive’ move after the diplomatic row which erupted following the capsize last week of a migrant boat with the loss of 27 lives.
Another source told The Times: ‘We stand ready to discuss, as we always have done. We’ll need to see the specifics but we look forward to those conversations.’
Mr Johnson infuriated French president Emmanuel Macron when he posted a letter on Twitter calling for joint patrols on French beaches and the return to France of migrants who succeed in making the dangerous Channel crossing.
Mr Macron said it was not a serious way to negotiate. But Mr Darmanin said on Monday the two countries needed to work together to deal with a shared problem.
‘From the moment there is no more double-speak, and we can discuss in a serious spirit, and our private exchanges correspond to our public exchanges, the French government is ready to very quickly resume discussions with Great Britain,’ he said.
Mr Darmanin said the proposals by Mr Castex could include ways to open up legal routes to the UK and for asylum seekers and to allow unaccompanied minors to join relatives in Britain.
However he said France could not accept the practice of turning back boats at sea, adding: ‘This is a red line for the French government’.
Meanwhile Mr Johnson is due to hold talks online with another of the key European players, Belgian prime minister Alexander de Croo.
Downing Street continues to insisted a returns agreement, as set out by Mr Johnson in his letter, would be the ‘single biggest deterrent’ to migrants attempting the Channel crossing.
Mr Darmanin had earlier described Britain’s request to return migrants back France a ‘mockery’.
A migrant wheels a trolley out of the camp under the watchful eye of French cops
Armed French cops stand an an outcrop of land near the French coast
An armed French cop stands guard as migrants are forced to leave the squalid settlement
A group of migrants walk along a highway after being booted from the camp near Dunkirk
This was a key argument in the Prime Minister’s letter to Macron last week, due to the belief that returning people to France so they can claim asylum in the first safe country they arrived in would break the business model of people traffickers.
But today interior minister Gerald Darmanin suggested the letter was an example of UK ministers communicating differently in public than they were in private.
He told BFMTV: ‘When there are serious diplomatic exchanges.. and lives that are at stake… and some minutes later you see that a letter, which no one has ever mentioned before, is published on Twitter from the British Prime Minister to the President of the French Republic before the President of the Republic has received it, it’s a bit peculiar.
‘When in this letter the English say the French should ‘take back their migrants, all their migrants’, it’s a mockery.’
He added that British/French relations were not currently ‘normal’ and that ‘our private exchanges are not always in line with our public exchanges’, before blaming the UK’s ‘black economy’ for being a pull factor for migrants.
Earlier he had tweeted: ‘When Mr Johnson says that France must ‘take back its migrants’, what he is really asking is for France to exonerate him from any responsibility for receiving them.
‘The British Government must take responsibility.’
His comments came after it emerged Miss Patel struck an agreement with Dutch ministers that migrants should be returned to the first country they arrive after opening direct talks with European ministers.
The French government barred Miss Patel from attending a Calais summit after president Macron took umbrage at an alleged breach of protocol.
Despite his tantrum, the Home Office said Miss Patel spoke with her Dutch counterpart yesterday and secured crucial agreements on reforms.
A spokesman said both ministers acknowledged that returns agreements – allowing migrants to be sent from the UK back to other EU nations – were ‘essential for breaking the criminal business model’ operated by organised crime gangs who charge more than £3,000 per illegal crossing.
France has repeatedly refused to consider a deal on returning migrants from the UK.
A Whitehall source said: ‘We will this week have more talks with counterparts on how we can work together to resolve this Europe-wide crisis. Priti’s Nationality and Borders Bill is the first step in addressing the broken asylum system and the pull factors it creates.’
At yesterday’s meeting, France agreed to allow aerial surveillance of its coastline by Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency from Wednesday. France had repeatedly rejected offers of aerial reconnaissance planes from the UK.
A UK government source said: ‘We want close collaboration and we want to work together. For this to happen then we must be around the table.’
A Home Office spokesman said Miss Patel spoke with Dutch migration minister Ankie Broekers-Knol and they ‘agreed that the tragic incidents of last week demonstrate the need for European partners to work together’.
The spokesman added: ‘The Home Secretary expressed that it was unfortunate that she wouldn’t be present at [the] meeting of interior ministers in Calais to discuss this issue.
‘The Home Secretary and minister for migration discussed ideas for enhanced bilateral and EU co-operation, including the need to tackle the criminal gangs that are orchestrating these deadly journeys through shared intelligence and joint law enforcement initiatives. Both agreed that returns agreements are essential for breaking the criminal business model.’
Talks with other nations are planned this week, it is understood. Three children, seven women and 17 men died off Calais on Wednesday last week while attempting to reach the UK from northern France.
On Friday, Mr Macron criticised PM Boris Johnson for posting a five-point action plan on Twitter. It led Mr Darmanin to withdraw Miss Patel’s invitation to yesterday’s talks.
The Home Secretary wrote in the Sun on Sunday: ‘We need to be creative about finding new solutions that will have the maximum possible impact, which is why the prime minister and I stand ready to discuss proposals with our French counterparts at any time.’
Health Secretary and former home secretary Sajid Javid said the PM’s strategy – including joint Anglo-French patrols and return agreements – were ‘exactly the kinds of things we need to do’. ‘Our policy is very clear: these boats must stop. We do need the cooperation of the French,’ he told Sky News.
More than 26,500 migrants have reached UK shores since the start of the year compared with just 8,410 in all of 2020.