Up to 50 migrants launch dinghy from Calais beach unhindered by French police

ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers is in Calais, where migrants are trying to cross the English Channel to Britain from France. A record number of migrants have crossed the canal in 2021, which has sparked tensions between Paris and London.

The hardship comes as at least 1,185 people risked their lives to cross to the UK on small boats on Thursday – a new record in a single day for the current crisis.

The only clue that happened was the barely visible silhouette of a man on the rocks above the beach, quietly smoking and waiting. It was about 7 in the morning when we first saw some figures moving rapidly across the sand. There were perhaps four or five of them hurrying towards the gently lapping sea.

We could not see what they were doing, just a strange glimpse of a torch. So 20 minutes later they came back and went out into the dunes. My cameraman and I waited and watched as the dull gray light slowly brought clarity to the indistinct waves of sand near the beach. We became cold and despairing, convinced that the men we had seen must have seen us and been deterred from launching a boat. But then we saw figures on the rocks that sought out the beach and clearly looked at us. Maybe something should happen anyway. Another 30 minutes passed and nothing. Again, we thought our presence was clearly postponing migrants from trying to reach Britain. We could not have been more wrong.

Migrants climb into the dinghy. Credit: ITV News

Just after 8 o’clock French time, and now in full daylight, a group of maybe 40 or 50 men and some women suddenly appeared, with a giant black rubber boat over their heads. They were jubilant, smiling and clearly excited to embark on their journey. Among them was at least one child, and many were wearing life jackets. Within minutes, the boat was carried across the sand and into the water. The migrants crawled in – a man struggled and got wet as he tried to retreat into the dinghy. One lost his life jacket when the engine started and they left. I spoke briefly with some of the migrants who said they were from Iraqi Kurdistan and were happy to start a new life in Britain.

One told me he had been in France for seven years and in prison for five. Throughout this episode, there was not a single police officer to be seen anywhere, despite the fact that this beach is a notorious place for migrants to launch their boats.

How far are France and Britain from solving the problem? Correspondent Dan Rivers reports from northern France

As the boat disappeared into the darkness, another launched perhaps half a mile further along the shore. This one also filled with dozens of people. We found the remains of a third dinghy on the rocks nearby and lots of signs that people had camped out here, with sleeping bags and clothes discarded along the way. When we drove back to the city, we spoke to a group of migrants who told us that their smugglers had not turned up with their boat, despite the fact that they had paid 2500 euros each for passage to the UK. It is clear that the smuggling operation here is on an industrial scale – well organized, lucrative and apparently taking place without any hindrance on the part of the French authorities.

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