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

ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers is in Calais where migrants are attempting to cross the English Channel to the UK from France. Record number of migrants have crossed the Channel in 2021, inflaming tensions between Paris and London.

The acrimonious row 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 something was happening was the barely visible silhouette of a man on the cliffs above the beach, quietly smoking and waiting. It was around 7am when we first saw some figures moving briskly across the sand. There were perhaps four or five of them, hurrying towards the gently lapping sea.

We couldn’t make out what they were doing, just the odd flash of a torch. Then 20 minutes later they came back and headed off into the dunes. My cameraman and I waited and watched as the dull grey light slowly brought clarity to the indistinct undulations of sand near the beach. We were getting cold and despondent, convinced the men we had seen must have spotted us and been deterred from launching a boat. But then we saw figures on the cliffs, surveying the beach and clearly looking at us. Perhaps something was going to happen after all. Another 30 minutes passed and nothing. Again, we thought our presence was clearly putting off the migrants from trying to reach the UK. We couldn’t have been more wrong.

Migrants clamber into the dinghy. Credit: ITV News

At just after 8am French time, and by now in full daylight, suddenly a group of perhaps 40 or 50 men and some women appeared, carrying a huge black inflatable dinghy above their heads. They were jubilant, smiling and clearly excited to be embarking on their voyage. Among them was at least one child, and many were wearing life jackets. In a matter of minutes the boat was borne across the sand and into the water. The migrants clambered in - one man struggling and getting wet as he tried to haul himself into the dinghy. One lost his lifejacket as the engine fired and they headed off. I talked briefly to some of the migrants who said they were from Iraqi Kurdistan and were pleased to be starting a new life in the UK.

One told me he had been in France for seven years and in prison for five. Throughout this entire episode there was not a single policeman to be seen anywhere, despite this beach being a notorious spot for migrants to launch their boats.

How far away are France and the UK from solving the problem? Correspondent Dan Rivers reports from the north of France

As the boat disappeared into the murk, another was launching perhaps half a mile further along the beach. This one also packed with dozens of people. We found the remains of a third dinghy on the rocks nearby and plenty of signs of people having camped out here, with sleeping bags and clothes discarded along the road. As we drove back to town we talked to a group of migrants who told us their smuggler had failed to turn up with their boat, despite them having paid 2500 Euros each for passage to the UK. It is clear that the smuggling operation here is on an industrial scale - well organised, lucrative and apparently taking place without any hindrance from the French authorities.