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  1. ITV Report

Dunkirk camp cleared as migrant Channel crossings increase

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers

Nearly 1,000 migrants, including pregnant women and families with young children, have been evicted from a makeshift camp in France.

Around 100 French police surrounded the Espace Jeunes du Moulin in Grande Synthe - a town in Dunkirk.

People living on the campsite, as well as aid workers were escorted off the grounds of the former sports stadium, where families had been living in the gym and camping in its grounds.

A series of coaches took the migrants to other camps across France, where they have been told they can apply for assylum.

The clearance took place after a court order was issued – reportedly in a bid to stop people smugglers coming into the gym and targeting vulnerable and desperate migrants.

The closure of the camp has revived fears it could prompt another spike in attempts to cross the English Channel.

Ahead of the closure, migrant crossings to the had increased as people knew they would be sent away from the French coast.

Single men were taken out first and then families, but the process took several hours.

Some had called the camp home for nine months and did not know where they would be taken.

Once the site was clear, officials moved in to dismantle tents donated by charities, and diggers soon began to clear away any rubbish.

French police said they carried out the evacuation due to concerns over security and hygiene.

Migrants were told to leave the camp on Tuesday morning. Credit: ITV News

UK Border Force and immigration officers were seen observing the process.

The Home Office said its staff were invited by the French authorities to attend as part of its work with the UK to tackle the number of attempted Channel crossings.

Over the weekend, staff were sent to the camp to warn people of the risks of crossing the strait in small boats, the department added.

Some migrants queued for hours to be escorted onto coaches. Credit: ITV News

Aid workers have slammed the eviction as "inhumane", and believe it is a temporary solution that exacerbates the migrant crisis.

"It’s just appalling," said Care4Calais worker Sarah Berry of the eviction.

"I think it’s pretty futile.

"At the end of the day, I think it happens to refugees far too often, and refugees will keep coming back because at the end of the day, this is not a solution."

Many of those in the camp had already paid money to people smugglers to get them across the Channel to the UK, making them determined to return to Dunkirk or Calais one way or another.

Care4Calais worker Sarah Berry. Credit: ITV News

Care4Calais founder Clare Moseley agreed, adding that "even the total destruction of the Calais Jungle in October 2016 has not stopped... people risking their lives crossing the Channel".

She added that camp clearances "further abuse some of the most vulnerable people in society – people who are already severely traumatised and who are desperate to protect their families.

“The men, women and children that we talk to every day do not want to take these risks; all they want is for their asylum claims to be heard.

“If there was a safe and legal way for this to happen it would stop them from risking their lives and stop people smugglers from being able to prey on them.”

Many families are unsure of where they could go after the eviction. Credit: ITV News

Last week, families living in the camp told the Press Association how they fled violence in Iraq and were trying to get to the UK so their children could have a safer life.

Several said they felt their only option was to somehow stump up the thousands of euros asked of them by smugglers in return for a place on a small boat crossing the Channel.

The Home Secretary has called for urgent action to halt the crossings Credit: Jacob King/PA

The wave of Channel crossings has increased in the last week after warnings migrant camp clearances in France would prompt more attempts.

On Monday, 29 migrants crossed the Channel and were handed over to UK immigration officials.

Two morning rescues on Tuesday resulted in groups of migrants – including four children – being taken to Dover by Border Force.

The French coastguard rescued another nine migrants, including two children, when the engine on their boat failed.

Police later found a woman and a child had come ashore at Fairlight Beach, Hastings, in East Sussex during the afternoon.

Some 41 migrants in four boats were found on Sunday.

French police officers watch migrants packing their belongings in a camp of Grande Synthe, northern France Credit: AP

On September 10, at least 86 men, women and children attempted the journey with some managing to land on beaches before being detained.

Last week, French police cleared another migrant camp in Calais.

Meanwhile, 29 arrests have been made in an investigation into a large migrant smuggling network, Europol said.

French and Spanish police swooped on the gang suspected of being involved in people trafficking and drug dealing.

They are thought to have preyed on lone children living in Spanish protection centres, encouraging them to escape before smuggling them to western Europe on board buses filled with drugs and animals used for hunting, a Europol spokesman said.

It is thought the move near Dunkirk could cause a spike in attempted Channel crossings by migrants Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA

This follows the arrests of six British men last week by the National Crime Agency who are suspected of smuggling migrants.

The number of migrants taken in by UK authorities so far this year is thought to have already passed 1,000.

Border Force cutters are continuing to patrol the Channel while drones, CCTV and night vision goggles are used, the Home Office said.

Last month, Home Secretary Priti Patel said urgent action was needed to put a stop to the tide of crossings, after she met French interior minister Christophe Castaner in Paris.

More detail on the action plan is yet to be released.