French police dismantle the camp where the victims of the Channel tragedy were staying

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French armed police have dismantled a makeshift migrant camp outside Dunkirk where the 27 people who died at sea last week stayed before drowning in the English Channel.

The base site, by a canal outside the suburb of Grand-Smythe, had no toilets or running water, but was nonetheless used by several hundred people, mostly Iraqi Kurds. or Iran, hoping to travel illegally to the UK.

Photographs showed police in hazmat suits dismantling the site on Tuesday, a set of tents and tarpaulins tied between poles, with armed officers standing guard. Tents and unclaimed personal effects were picked up and thrown into trucks.

The occupants, mostly men but also a few families with children, will be dispersed in treatment centers across the country in an attempt to expel them from northern France. However, many are likely to return in a few days to attempt to cross the Channel again as they do not wish to stay in the country.

Last week, the Guardian spoke to several English-speaking migrants who said they returned as soon as they could. Karwan Tahir, an Iraqi Kurd from Sulaymaniyah, who had lived in Britain before 2006, said he was sent to a hotel near Bordeaux but “came back straight away on the train; I have a friend to send me money for the ticket. I don’t want to be there, I want to come to UK.

Many Iraqi Kurds attempting to make the dangerous crossing have friends or family in Britain who will help them with the £ 2,000-3,000 fee paid to the smugglers.

People had only been camping in the canal-side area for a few weeks, after a larger and better-equipped site closer to Grand-Smythe and its hypermarket outside the city was demolished by order of the French Minister of the Interior, Gerald Darmanin. The new site was only heated by open fires on nights when the temperature regularly dropped below zero degrees.

Several people at the camp knew some of the 27 people who drowned last Wednesday, after their annex deflated as they attempted to cross the English Channel. Darmanin said on Tuesday that France would “take care of the burial” of the victims.

The number of migrants near Dunkirk has more than doubled from around 400 to more than 1,000 – the total inflated by Belarus’ decision to open its borders to migrants from Iraq. Belarusian security forces often helped people get to Poland, from where it was possible to travel by car, train and on foot to Dunkirk.

No refugee center has existed in northern France since the UK and France reached an agreement involving the closure of Sangatte camp in 2002. An informal camp, known as the Jungle, has seen the day thereafter but it was demolished and closed by the French authorities in 2016.

I crossed the Channel in a small boat.  It's like that - vidéo
I crossed the Channel in a small boat. It’s like that – vidéo

Since then, migrants have lived in a handful of small camps around Calais and Dunkirk, often dominated by particular nationalities. Charity workers say they are subject to regular raids by French police, with tents cut down or taken away, as well as closed when deemed to be outgrown.

The number of migrants crossing the Channel rose to 25,776 in 2021, compared to 8,461 in 2020 and 1,835 in 2019, according to figures compiled by the BBC from data from the Home Office.

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