Newspapers are reporting that a group of eight Iranian Kurdish migrants were fired at by French police as they attempted to launch a boat on the French coast near Dunkirk. The migrants, who were hoping to make it to the UK, were hit by rubber bullets. At least two were injured.
This week, the UK's Daily Mail and the French newspaper La Voix Du Nord published stories alleging that a group of eight Kurdish Iranian migrants were fired at by French police, using rubber bullets. At least two of them were injured, said the Daily Mail, which also printed pictures of one of the migrants in his hospital bed.
The Daily Mail claimed that "French police have shot migrants with potentially lethal rubber bullets to stop their illegal boat crossing the Channel to the UK." The shooting happened about five miles from a big migrant camp just outside Dunkirk, known as Grande Synthe. There, hundreds of migrants are camping in the woods in makeshift shelters while they wait for a boat to the UK.
French authorities say that these camps have been infiltrated by smuggling gangs, who work hard to stop the French attempts to prevent migrants launching boats.
'First known case of gun tactics to halt a migrant boat launch'
The Mail continued that the French police authorities were now investigating the allegations, which are being reported as the "first known case of gun tactics to halt a migrant boat launch."
The two injured migrants were taken to hospital. One remained there as he had been hit several times in the leg. The other, who suffered a broken hand, was being treated as an outpatient.
The Daily Mail says that the alleged shooting "marks a major escalation of tension on the beaches." Two videos are included in the Mail's article, published on October 3, one of which shows injuries allegedly suffered in the shooting. The other, shot at night, shows people speaking in Kurdish and French paramedics attending a couple of people lying on the ground.
The local French prefecture (police headquarters) issued a statement saying: "During this operation in the night of September 21-22, a team of police experienced aggression from a group of migrants. The police officers involved responded with proportionate force, using the means at their disposal, and used flash-balls." Flash balls are described as "non-lethal projectiles" often made of rubber or foam.
The prefecture added that following their investigation, they could not establish any connection between the action of the police and the alleged injuries suffered by the two migrants.
The dinghy the Kurdish people had been carrying was "destined to bring 40 migrants to Britain," according to the Daily Mail. The two Kurdish migrants who said they were injured in the incident also said that the police were "laughing at them as their injured comrades fell to the ground," the paper reports.
Seeking asylum in the UK
The Daily Mail also asked those involved in the incident whether they were people traffickers or assisting the trafficking gangs for money. They told the newspaper they were not traffickers but had wanted to get to the UK in order to seek asylum.
One man, who asked to be known as Mohammed, said that eight people were in the process of launching the boat when the police arrived. He said that he could not remember how many times the police had shot at them, but that the man with the fractured leg was shot at "at point blank range."
Mohammed added that as the police arrived they shouted "stop!" According to him, the migrants did stop, but they were still shot at. "We ran away as best we could," Mohammed said.
Can cause 'blindness and disabilities'
According to the Daily Mail, rubber bullets typically have a "metal core with rubber coating and are often used in France in riot control." The paper adds that they have "caused blindness and permanent disabilities in those struck in the past."
In Northern Ireland, where they were used in the past by British forces, they reportedly led to the deaths of 17 people, according to the Mail.
In a report from the Grande Synthe migrant camp on August 13 by another British newspaper, The Sun, an Iraqi builder said that the smugglers themselves, who are said to control the camps, "have guns and are not afraid to fire them."
The builder, Ahmad Mohamad, said that it wasn’t hard to find a gang to take you to the UK. "There’s plenty of smugglers doing business," he said, "but you have to choose the right one. They try to rip you off."
'Firearms circulating in the camps'
In the camp in Grand Synthe, Mohamad told The Sun that the smugglers would come through the camps touting for business and make extra cash by creaming off money from the make-shift shops and restaurants set up there. Ten minutes after the reporters left, they said they heard "gunfire," in the camp. They claim that "an argument among two men at a kebab cafe had taken a sinister turn."
An unnamed source with the Dunkirk police reportedly told The Sun that firearms were often circulating in the camp. "Knives were shown to begin with, then one of the men took out a gun and shot the other in the right shin," said the source.
According to the Sun, there were about "200 migrants" in the camp at the time and "many of them saw what happened but very few of them wanted to co-operate with the police, for obvious reasons."
The gunman in that case "raced into the woods" and hadn’t been identified at the time of the report. The injured man was said to be "in a stable condition in Dunkirk hospital." According to the Sun, the prices in 2021 to cross the Channel have "fallen to £2,500 per person" following a "mushrooming of smuggling gangs who now use superdinghies capable of carrying up to 70 people."
Crossing the Channel by pedalo
Meanwhile, the BBC has posted a second film by French filmmaker Julien Goudichaud, who spent a year in Calais filming migrants hoping to cross the Channel.
For those with no money to pay the smugglers, other routes to the UK are tried, from jumping on lorries to clubbing together to buy their own boat. One group of Sudanese migrants who reportedly have no money hatch a plot in Goudichaud's film to steel a pedalo and cross the Channel in a plastic boat designed for calm inland waters.
The group manage to steal the boat and launch it but ultimately fail to reach the UK. One man called Sultan says later that they "almost died" in their attempts, as water filled the boat and the waves turned it over.
At the end of the film, however, a subtitle says that Sultan made it subsequently to Manchester in the UK where he is now awaiting the outcome of his asylum claim.