French police dismantled the camp at Grande-Synthe on November 16 | Source: Screenshot Utopia 56
French police dismantled the camp at Grande-Synthe on November 16 | Source: Screenshot Utopia 56

French police have cleared another migrant camp near the French port city of Dunkirk. The camp at Grande-Synthe was home to about 1,500 migrants hoping to cross the Channel to the UK.

On Tuesday, November 16, the French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced he had ordered police in Dunkirk to clear a migrant camp which had sprung up at Grande-Synthe near the city of Dunkirk on the Channel coast.

In a tweet, Darmanin said that the clearance had allowed the security forces to arrest 13 smuggling suspects. He said the latest arrests brought the total of suspects arrested since January to 1,308. He called the smugglers "criminals who exploit human misery and are responsible for irregular immigration."

According to NGOs working with migrants in the area, the dismantled camp was mainly inhabited by Iraqi Kurds, waiting for their chance to cross the Channel in small boats. Most of them pay several thousand euros for the chance to join a boat crossing which have been setting off increasingly regularly from French beaches in the last few months.

Clearance began at 7am

The clearance began at 7am in the morning. Locals told the French radio network France Bleu that they hadn’t seen so many people in the camps since 2015 and that the numbers of migrants had "tripled in a little less than two months."

One French NGO working with migrants in the area, Utopia 56, was present at the clearance. A spokesperson for Utopia 56 told France Bleu that they were worried that the clearance would result in people becoming more invisible and that it wouldn’t change the reality of the situation significantly.

France Bleu reported that buses were brought in to take migrants from the camp to accommodation centers. The regional prefect Georges Francois Leclerc told France Bleu that about "400 migrants had accepted the offer of accommodation." He added that not all the accommodation was within the region but could be in other places in France too.

From file: Police during an evacuation of a migrant camp in Grande-Synthe on October 13, 2021 | Source: Screenshot Utopia 56
From file: Police during an evacuation of a migrant camp in Grande-Synthe on October 13, 2021 | Source: Screenshot Utopia 56

No long-term solution

When InfoMigrants was in Calais in July, a spokesperson for the NGO Human Rights Observers (HRO), which monitors camp clearances around France, explained that often migrants are unclear about where they are being taken when they board the buses.

The spokesperson said that when they find themselves sometimes as far away as the south of France, they leave the accommodation and start the journey back towards the northern coast again. So offering accommodation was not a strategy that really offered a long-term solution, since their aim is to reach Britain.

To date this year, more than 23,000 migrants are thought to have made it across the Channel to the UK, a fact that the British Home Secretary (Interior Minister) Priti Patel and her government have dubbed "unacceptable."

A legal basis for turning back small boats?

The British government has been considering deploying tougher measures to stem migrant Channel crossings. One of the proposals mooted is to turn back the small boats before they reach British waters. This, however, has been heavily criticized by human rights groups, legal experts and even the trade unions that represents border guards.

All of them concur that it is unrealistic to turn back small boats, because the conditions to be able to legally do so are very unlikely to occur. On Sunday, November 14, the Guardian reported that officers from the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union were "considering applying for a judicial review to stop the tactic from being used."

The Guardian said that it had seen documents from the Home Office in which it claims that the government’s own lawyers had "warned ministers that the tactic [of turning back small boats mid-Channel] could lead to a leagal challenge from a union or possible strike action."

Kevin Mills, a lead for the Border Force members of the PCS union, told the Guardian that "if someone dies, it won’t be Priti Patel taking the body out of the water. And to say that the officers concerned won’t be prosecuted does not help our members' mental health."

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover onboard a Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) vessel, following a small boat incident in the Channel on October 18, 2021 | Photo: Gareth Fuller/Zuma Press/imago
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover onboard a Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) vessel, following a small boat incident in the Channel on October 18, 2021 | Photo: Gareth Fuller/Zuma Press/imago

Making the route unviable

Lucy Moreton from another union which represents border guards, the Immigration Services Union, added to the Guardian that even if the government went ahead with their plan and the border guards agreed to carry it out, it would fail because the French authorities would refuse to engage with it.

She said a pushback would require that the receiving authority accept those pushed back, and if they were in British waters then that would not happen. In October, reported the Guardian, Priti Patel continued to insist, even before the House of Lords that there was a "legal basis" for the proposed pushbacks of boats.

In recent days, Patel has reiterated that she wants to make the route unviable, even whilst the numbers of those crossing this year are almost triple that of those who made it in the whole of 2020.

Interior Minister Darmanin tweeted on Tuesday afternoon that he had held talks with his British counterparts on the subject of small boat crossings and that the two sides had agreed to continue their "operational cooperation," and were determined to "continue the fight against the smuggling networks." Although earlier it was reported by France 24 that France was tired of being told what to do by Britain.


 

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