French police patrol the Slack dunes on the English Channel at Wimereux, near Calais, France, November 25, 2021 | Photo: Reuters
French police patrol the Slack dunes on the English Channel at Wimereux, near Calais, France, November 25, 2021 | Photo: Reuters

The number of migrants rescued off the coast of Calais and taken in by the French state tripled in 2021, which was itself a record year for irregular Channel crossing attempts, the French Office of Immigration and Integration (Ofii) reported on January 10.

"The number of people shipwrecked off the coast of Calais and taken into care was 1,002 in 2021," compared with 341 in 2020, an increase of 194%, Ofii announced. This care represents "a financial effort that continues to increase," said the organization's director general, Didier Leschi.

Read more: France to offer evicted Calais migrants shelter, envoy says

In addition, the number of people living in makeshift camps on the northern coast who were "sheltered and directed into the national reception system was 31,103" last year, up 239% from 2020 (9,172), according to Ofii.

Among these migrants, the proportion of people with families or people who are considered themselves to be "vulnerable" has doubled, from 1,158 to 2,273.

Ofii points out that 9,779 accommodation places were offered in 2021, mainly in the Hauts-de-France (98%) and 6,950 people were accommodated.

'Hysterical debates on immigration'

This increase in accommodation comes at a time of a record number of attempted irregular crossings of the English Channel, with more than 28,000 people successfully reaching the English coast in 2021. At the end of November, 27 migrants aboard a makeshift boat died in the deadliest shipwreck on this sea route. Only two migrants survived the tragedy and were among the 1,002 migrants taken in last year.

"Not to take into account the efforts of the state to deal with the complex situation in Calais is to participate in the hysterical debates on immigration," said Leschi, who has been leading a mediation mission in Calais on behalf of the government since last October.

'People want to stay on the coast'

For their part, associations that help migrants in the region regularly accuse the authorities of conducting a policy of deterrence on the coast. Several activists went on hunger strike between October and mid-November 2021, to demand a moratorium on the almost daily dismantling of camps and denounce the "inhumane" treatment reserved for exiles.

In December, humanitarian workers interviewed by InfoMigrants were already pointing to an increase in the number of shelters, while doubting the effectiveness of this system. In fact, according to them, migrants do not want to go to centers that are far from the city and do not correspond to their administrative status.

"The exiles do not go to the CAES [reception and situation examination center] because they are intended for asylum seekers. But most of the people in Calais have already been through the Dublin regulation or have had their asylum applications rejected," said Pierre Roques of the Auberge des Migrants.

"These people want to stay on the coast, they are here to get to England, not to end up dozens of kilometers from the coast," said Marguerite Combes, coordinator of Utopia 56, "When there is a humanitarian emergency, they must be housed where they are, in Calais."


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