Although it was expected years ago, this year has seen much larger numbers of migrants crossing the English Channel by boat from France in the hope of reaching Britain. Of course, the reality is that the vast majority of arrivals are men, and it is obvious that they are economic migrants taking advantage of a weak and over sympathetic immigration system. It is also true that the crossings are highly coordinated, with the French Navy escorting the dinghies or inflatable rafts towards British waters, before being picked up by the Royal Navy or the UK Border Force. The only take away from this is that France wants to get rid of them, and that Britain is willing to take them.
But what exactly is going on in northern France that led to such large movements this year?
Well, for the last 18 months, President Macron’s government has begun the clearance of large migrant camps across the north of his country, especially in Paris and its surrounding suburbs. On the 29th July near Paris, for example, the Aubervilliers camp was broken up, which housed 1,250 migrants. These migrants are now heading towards other makeshift camps, increasing the likelihood that they will seek to reach England in the coming weeks and months. President Macron’s strategy of dismantling the camps is not helping to end the migrant problem in France, because the migrants are rarely housed or taken into care by the French state. Instead, by destroying the camps and allowing the migrants to move on, he is encouraging them to move north to seek new pastures. And of course, the only thing waiting for them to the north of France is England.
There are currently 6 major French NGOs (non-Governmental organisations) who are helping to move the migrants from dismantled camps around Paris towards the English Channel. They are MSF, TIMMY, Comede, Midis Du MIE, Utopia56 and France Terre d’Asile. On the 1st July, 5 of these groups set up their own camp on the streets of Paris, demanding that the migrants be recognised as minors. They called their camp the ‘Red Tent Protest’, and were widely mocked for claiming that migrant men in their 20s and 30s should be recognised as youths. France Terre d’Asile is of particular interest, because its website does not recognise the reality of economic migration, and only uses the labels ‘Asylum seekers’, ‘refugees’ and ‘unaccompanied foreign minors’. It also currently has 636 employees, 350 volunteers, and operates 34 reception centres, with just over 70% of its funding coming from the French Interior Ministry.
The NGOs provide maps, bicycles, food, tents and many other commodities. They are helping to create a culture which encourages, rather than discourages, illegal migration from Paris all the way to Kent. It is pointless for the French Government to claim they are clamping down on illegal migration and ramping up deportations, when they are at the same time funding NGOs which are fuelling the problem.
As with all illegal migration crises though, criminality is never far away, and the reality is that only smugglers are capable of enacting the Channel crossings.
The smuggling gangs, which are so sophisticated that even Sky News admitted they were using huts and light signals on the coastline, charge high rates in return for life jackets, boats and the promise of a new life. They flash bright green lights in the early hours of the morning, which act as a signal to local migrants that they need to assemble in preparation for the crossing. These lights of course also serve to alert the local French Navy and Coast Guard, who are waiting to escort them. The smugglers don’t buy boats and their necessary motors; they steal them from local businesses, a reality which is causing great anger among the coastal communities. The coronavirus lockdown allowed this type of criminality to increase, because local businesses were temporarily abandoned as the pandemic spread throughout the area. In May for example, the Coastal Rescue headquarters near Calais was broken into, with 14 radios and several medical kits being taken. The smugglers are largely of Albanian origin, and they were also infamously involved in the now-destroyed ‘Calais Jungle’ camp. According to French Police, they are often armed with knives and sometimes even guns.
All the dots join up into one very clear and worrying picture. The French Government’s dismantling of the camps around Paris, and their continued policy of allowing the occupants to flee, is pushing the migrants north in search of other areas to live. The NGOs then help to escort and feed them during their journey, and then the migrants make contact with the smuggler gangs on the coast. Once the fees have been paid, the migrants leave the coast and the navy shadow them until they leave French waters, when the British authorities willingly take over – and pick up the bill.
The authorities would like the public to believe, on both sides of the channel, that these are asylum seekers who just happen to wash up on our shores, but the reality is almost the complete opposite. They are in fact the end result of a long migration process spanning two countries, which at different stages, involves governments, NGOs and smuggling gangs. A recent video showed two migrants hiding and then escaping from a British family’s car luggage box beside the A29 road in Normandy. As the French continue to dismantle the migrant camps around Paris, more and more migrants like these will move West into areas such as this, seeking new routes across the channel – and the crisis will only grow.