Incroyable! French take migrants back to France and clear Calais camp in first sign of effort to halt the flow of migrants across the Channel to UK, writes SUE REID
Thirty forlorn-looking migrants stood on the deck of French navy warship Flamant as she sailed proudly into Calais yesterday morning.
They had just been stopped in a dinghy by the warship two miles off the north French coast while heading towards Britain across the Channel.
When the disappointed group of Iranians and Iraqis came down the gangplank on to French soil, they were met by waiting gendarmerie who took them off for fingerprinting at a secure centre on a hill above the port.
Patrollie: Migrants are brought back to port on the Flamant after being picked up in Channel
The arrival in Calais of the Flamant with its human cargo was a first very public display of the French doing what Britain wants: halting the flow of migrants heading the 21 miles across the narrow stretch of sea for a new life in the UK.
At the time the warship came into berth, 20 miles along the coast in Dunkirk another display of Gallic co-operation with Britain was under way.
The last remnants of a giant camp, emptied of migrants’ bell tents by French police on Tuesday, were being totally destroyed so no one can ever return to live there again.
The notorious camp had become a base for thousands of migrants waiting to sail to the UK. It was run by people traffickers using guns to maintain order as they organised boat places for up to £6,000 a head.
In a military-style operation, officers in white hazmat suits moved in at nine with bulldozers and fork-lift trucks to remove the mountains of rubbish – ranging from supermarket trolleys to babies’ cots – left behind by the 1,500 camp residents.
A police tractor was then brought in to plough up the land where the camp once stood so it is impossible for migrants to set up tents there if they try to return.
Intussen, impromptu settlements set up by the migrants in the nearby forest 1,600 yards away were also evacuated by police and sealed off yesterday.
Migrants climbed up tall trees to escape police raids. They ran further into the forest dragging chairs, bed pallets, matrasse, gas bottles and even life jackets (to use for a future boat crossing) to hide.
In the mayhem, many hundreds, including mothers with small babies, were left standing on the Dunkirk roadside with no idea where to go next.
Disembarking: They return to Calais watched by police
There were pitiful sights of entire families pushing their possessions in shopping trolleys along the port’s streets as they searched for shelter for the night.
At the bus stop outside the forest, an Iranian husband and wife with their four children aged under six, including a seven-month-old babe in arms sucking a dummy, waited for the bus to take them to Loon-Plage, a beach resort near Dunkirk.
‘We are desperate,’ said the father Mohsen, 38, gazing down protectively at his dark-haired wife holding the baby and looking scared.
‘We are catching the bus so we can join others who have set up a tiny new camp of tents near the sea. We hope the police do not find it.’
At the bus stop with them was 17-year-old Aland from Iraq, who has been in France for three weeks.
Oppad: Jogger’s video of migrants hauling dinghy into the sea
He said when his tent was pulled down by police at the shanty camp earlier this week he had ‘slept on the ground’ without any cover in the forest.
Some of the homeless migrants were ferried by the French authorities by coach yesterday to reception centres dotted about the country, where they will be security vetted and given the chance to claim asylum in France.
But most refused to get on board the waiting transport.
‘We don’t trust the French,’ explained a bearded young migrant with a crutch and a limp. ‘They don’t want us here which is why we try for England and we will keep trying.
‘We may not be able to camp in Dunkirk any more, but there are lots of places along the coast where we will start again.
‘We have to live near the sea so we can get the boats to your country.’ The crackdown came after the total number of migrants crossing the Channel to Britain reached 1,000 in a single day again on Tuesday.
Footage showed dozens of asylum seekers clapping and cheering as they launched their dinghy that day without a policeman in sight on beaches near Calais. Local jogger Franck Viandier has recorded more damning videos in recent weeks showing French police standing by and even filming migrants piling into dinghies.
Hy het gesê: ‘Sometimes there is a lot of police, I can see they fight sometimes. But they say to me, “It is not our job to fight with these people. These people want to go to England and we are French police”.’
French officers stand on the beach with hands in pockets
But the shocking number of crossings in the past week seems to have finally spurred the gendarmerie into action, met net 66 making it to the UK on Wednesday.
Lower numbers were expected again yesterday, despite better conditions thanks to the increased patrols.
The Home Office was still trying to confirm the exact numbers from Tuesday due to the high volume, but sources said it was ‘around 1,000’ and could eclipse the previous high of 1,185 recorded last week.
It means at least 3,941 migrants have arrived this month in 121 bote, taking the total for the year so far to 23,683.