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As row with France over Channel crossings rages, SUE REID speaks to refugees in Calais 

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Priti Patel has risked inflaming relations with France by claiming migrants flee the country for Britain because they see it is as racist and fear they may be tortured. 

The Home Secretary’s remarks, made in a private conference call with Tory MPs, incensed some French politicians, with one accusing her of ‘not doing much thinking’. 

Here SUE REID looks at the deepening migrant crisis developing in Calais. 

Under the hot sun in northern France, the long beach lined by dunes and dotted with bright parasols is crowded with holidaymakers.

Sitting on a low wall above them are two young Africans, one with an incongruous woollen hat pulled over his ears.

As they while away their time pointing to ferries passing between Calais and England, they are joined by their 16-year-old countryman Yahya Idriss, from faraway Sudan, riding a bicycle given to him by a local charity.

Under the hot sun in northern France, the long beach lined by dunes and dotted with bright parasols is crowded with holidaymakers. Sitting on a low wall above them are two young Africans, one with an incongruous woollen hat pulled over his ears

Under the hot sun in northern France, the long beach lined by dunes and dotted with bright parasols is crowded with holidaymakers. Sitting on a low wall above them are two young Africans, one with an incongruous woollen hat pulled over his ears

Migrants are seen sleeping rough on an industrial estate in Calais. Gone are the semi-formal camps which used to dot Calais’s outskirts. They used to house water fountains, toilet blocks, mobile charging points and bell tents, while visits from charities with food vans were waved through by the watching police

Migrants are seen sleeping rough on an industrial estate in Calais. Gone are the semi-formal camps which used to dot Calais’s outskirts. They used to house water fountains, toilet blocks, mobile charging points and bell tents, while visits from charities with food vans were waved through by the watching police

The beach where this scene played out is called La Rotonde. It lies on the fringes of Calais where thousands of migrants are waiting to sail 21 miles to the Kent coast in perilous, overcrowded rubber boats.

By day La Rotonde is a beachgoers’ paradise. But after holidaymakers leave at dusk it becomes a hot spot for people traffickers who push migrants out to sea in flimsy vessels – and charge exorbitant prices.

Many of the little boats that have carried more than 1,000 migrants to Britain this month, including a heavily pregnant mother and a man found floating with empty lemonade bottles strapped to his body, started their journey from the shoreline of La Rotonde six or seven hours before.

The number of successful Channel crossings peaked two weeks ago with a record of 235 on just one day.

‘La Rotonde beach is popular with traffickers because it’s easy for their migrant customers to reach it from central Calais. They can walk there or catch the bus which takes 17 minutes,’ says Henri, a bar owner who has a beach hut nearby.

‘There are easy access points from the road where traffickers drive in trucks with the boats.’

It is not the first time I have been told about La Rotonde becoming increasingly popular with people smugglers.

As they while away their time pointing to ferries passing between Calais and England, they are joined by their 16-year-old countryman Yahya Idriss, from faraway Sudan, riding a bicycle given to him by a local charity

As they while away their time pointing to ferries passing between Calais and England, they are joined by their 16-year-old countryman Yahya Idriss, from faraway Sudan, riding a bicycle given to him by a local charity

Last year, an Iranian migrant called Dariush guided me there in my car. He had been living for a year in a migrant camp, one of a handful in Calais then permitted by the council, and was hoping to get to England by boat. 

He stood at the beach entrance, reached from a road lined with holiday homes and aptly named Rue de la Mer. ‘See the sand dunes,’ he said.

‘They are where the migrants hide until night time and it’s time to go down to the boats. The traffickers call them on their mobile phones.’

When Dariush set off for England last summer, there’s every chance it was from La Rotonde. He texted me before his journey saying: ‘Pray I do not drown. I am about to start off.’

I have not heard from him since, although his Iranian friends still in Calais told me that he did arrive in Kent.

But not all are so fortunate. A few days ago a flimsy boat was caught in the Channel’s currents when it ran out of fuel just off La Rotonde, nearly costing ten migrants their lives as they sailed for the UK in the early hours. Their craft was swept into shore further along the coast closer to the ferry port.

The long line of African, Afghan and Iranian people – the vast majority of whom are men under 30 – wind back as far as the eye can see into the woodlands where they are now forced to live because there is nowhere else to go

The long line of African, Afghan and Iranian people – the vast majority of whom are men under 30 – wind back as far as the eye can see into the woodlands where they are now forced to live because there is nowhere else to go

Migrants in the centre of Calais are seen looking towards the ferry terminal. The first warning sign that the French government was starting to harden its approach toward migration came last year when President Emmanuel Macron warned that the country could not ‘host’ everyone who wished to live in it

Migrants in the centre of Calais are seen looking towards the ferry terminal. The first warning sign that the French government was starting to harden its approach toward migration came last year when President Emmanuel Macron warned that the country could not ‘host’ everyone who wished to live in it

A sign for Bleriot Plage (Beach) is pictured above. Among the first Gallic salvos was from Calais mayor, Natacha Bouchart who, in a statement delivered to a French TV station from a promenade not far from La Rotonde beach, claimed that the UK had ‘subjected the people of Calais to the migrant situation for too long’

A sign for Bleriot Plage (Beach) is pictured above. Among the first Gallic salvos was from Calais mayor, Natacha Bouchart who, in a statement delivered to a French TV station from a promenade not far from La Rotonde beach, claimed that the UK had ‘subjected the people of Calais to the migrant situation for too long’

A French Maritime Gendarmerie Coastal Patrol ship is pictured off the shore of Bleriot Beach

A French Maritime Gendarmerie Coastal Patrol ship is pictured off the shore of Bleriot Beach

The sunset is pictured above on the dunes of Bleriot Beach, where migrants hide out before crossing the English Channel

The sunset is pictured above on the dunes of Bleriot Beach, where migrants hide out before crossing the English Channel

Holiday homes are seen in Bleriot Beach, with the port of Calais seen in the background

Holiday homes are seen in Bleriot Beach, with the port of Calais seen in the background

A Calais town square is pictured above where migrants are seen in the late evening. Many spend their days idling away their time in the city’s shopping streets, much to the surprise of tourists

A Calais town square is pictured above where migrants are seen in the late evening. Many spend their days idling away their time in the city’s shopping streets, much to the surprise of tourists

A TV crew from Sky with night vision cameras captured their escape, as the occupants – thought to be from Sudan – ran up the sands, waiting until first light to walk back to Calais.

They joined hundreds of others, from all over the world, who wait in the port. They do so in utter squalor, dossing down in wooded areas, under bushes, as detritus piles up around them. At night, they wander the city centre, sleeping on benches and beneath trees, some on pieces of cardboard.

Many spend their days idling away their time in the city’s shopping streets, much to the surprise of tourists.

Even the swimming beaches – where migrants were never seen until recently – are no longer out of bounds as numbers here reach 1,200, twice as many as last summer.

One might ask why the locals living near the beach don’t blow the whistle on what is going on at night.

Yet when I was watching there one evening last week, at 10pm the residents simply put down their metal window shutters and locked up.

‘They know it is happening,’ said one resident at the nearby coffee bar. 

‘They are afraid the traffickers will come to their homes and threaten them, make life nasty, if they say anything about boats going out.’

As the French make them more unwelcome, it stiffens the migrants’ belief that the streets of London, Birmingham and Manchester are the place to be. And every day they live in misery in Calais, that determination grows stronger

As the French make them more unwelcome, it stiffens the migrants’ belief that the streets of London, Birmingham and Manchester are the place to be. And every day they live in misery in Calais, that determination grows stronger

A French radar station is pictured above on Sangatte beach, monitoring the Channel traffic. Macron’s stance coincided with a push in Calais to restore the city’s image as an attractive tourist destination, rather than a hub for migrants smuggling themselves to the UK in lorries or boats

A French radar station is pictured above on Sangatte beach, monitoring the Channel traffic. Macron’s stance coincided with a push in Calais to restore the city’s image as an attractive tourist destination, rather than a hub for migrants smuggling themselves to the UK in lorries or boats

And so a growing humanitarian crisis continues to take shape, as the queues of migrants lengthen each day for sandwiches and bottled water handed out by charities at 2.30pm near the city hospital.

The long line of African, Afghan and Iranian people – the vast majority of whom are men under 30 – wind back as far as the eye can see into the woodlands where they are now forced to live because there is nowhere else to go.

Gone are the semi-formal camps which used to dot Calais’s outskirts. They used to house water fountains, toilet blocks, mobile charging points and bell tents, while visits from charities with food vans were waved through by the watching police.

Today these sanctuaries have either been pulled down or surrounded with barbed wired so that no one can enter them.

Andy Brown, a senior volunteer with the English charity Care4Calais, said: ‘It’s all to create a hostile environment which actually fuels attempts to get to England. You only put your child on the sea if it’s more dangerous (for them to live) on land. We have 15-year-olds here sleeping in ditches.’

The first warning sign that the French government was starting to harden its approach toward migration came last year when President Emmanuel Macron warned that the country could not ‘host’ everyone who wished to live in it.

It was largely seen as a political manoeuvre to stop the country’s increasingly popular Right-wing anti-immigration parties attracting working-class support.

But Macron’s stance coincided with a push in Calais to restore the city’s image as an attractive tourist destination, rather than a hub for migrants smuggling themselves to the UK in lorries or boats.

The blame game between Britain and France flared up again last week as Home Secretary Priti Patel threatened to launch Royal Navy patrols in the Channel to control the growing number of flotillas.

This followed a heated meeting between immigration minister Chris Philp and his French counterpart, which culminated in a failure to secure a deal with the French to turn back migrant boats.

Among the first Gallic salvos was from Calais mayor, Natacha Bouchart who, in a statement delivered to a French TV station from a promenade not far from La Rotonde beach, claimed that the UK had ‘subjected the people of Calais to the migrant situation for too long’.

The blame game between Britain and France flared up again last week as Home Secretary Priti Patel threatened to launch Royal Navy patrols in the Channel to control the growing number of flotillas. Migrants were last week seen taking selfies as they waited to be rescued in the Channel

The blame game between Britain and France flared up again last week as Home Secretary Priti Patel threatened to launch Royal Navy patrols in the Channel to control the growing number of flotillas. Migrants were last week seen taking selfies as they waited to be rescued in the Channel

Locals, she added, would back her view as they were tired of the never-ending stream of newcomers too.

Bouchart later said: ‘If the migrants want to cross the Channel, it is because the British put out the call t o them. I appeal to Boris Johnson to change the methods of welcoming and dealing with migrants.’

Deputy mayor Philippe Mignonet told French newspapers that migrants risk the sea crossing ‘because they can work in the UK’s black economy when they want, because there is no control, not on the street or in the workplace. I fear a tragedy one day at sea, but the British blame us for their own hypocrisy’.

The terse political exchanges did little to stop the migrant mayhem in Calais. Just beyond its outskirts lies a town called Coquelles, where the main police headquarters is located. 

This is where migrants are brought for questioning when they are caught on traffickers’ boats in French waters heading for the white cliffs of Dover.

The headquarters houses a courtroom as well as a number of cells and interview areas.

But behind this detention centre is a yellow building without a sign. This is where the British-French offensive against migrant traffickers in northern France is meant to take place under plans drawn up by Theresa May and her French counterparts.

According to migrant charities it cost more than a million euros to build and inside are banks of CCTV screens monitoring migrants and activities at the port and beaches. But what good this is all doing is anyone’s guess – for the traffickers are still ruling the roost.

Behind this detention centre is a yellow building without a sign. This is where the British-French offensive against migrant traffickers in northern France is meant to take place under plans drawn up by Theresa May and her French counterparts

Behind this detention centre is a yellow building without a sign. This is where the British-French offensive against migrant traffickers in northern France is meant to take place under plans drawn up by Theresa May and her French counterparts

Even the charities helping the migrants have started to outsmart the authorities.

I talked to Kamal Sadeghi, 39, who with his lawyer wife, Niki, 33, and baby daughter of 13 months, Sava, arrived in Calais last month. He told me his picture-perfect family had been approached by one charity to be used as publicity fodder to pluck at heartstrings and raise donations.

Kamal, a singer and carpenter, fled Iran because he was persecuted there after converting to Christianity. His wife’s family, committed to the strict Islamic regime, had objected to their marriage.

Even the swimming beaches – where migrants were never seen until recently – are no longer out of bounds as numbers here reach 1,200, twice as many as last summer. A migrant is seen using the beach shower on Plage de la Rotonde

Even the swimming beaches – where migrants were never seen until recently – are no longer out of bounds as numbers here reach 1,200, twice as many as last summer. A migrant is seen using the beach shower on Plage de la Rotonde

The three of them fled via Slovenia, where they felt unwelcome. They now live in a tiny bell tent in the woodlands near the city hospital, along with fellow Iranian migrants hoping to get to Britain.

He explained: ‘I was surprised when the charity found me, right here at my tent. They wanted to photograph my family because they thought it would make people give them funds when they saw how we have to live. Of course, I refused.’

Like most migrants here, he dreams of getting on a trafficker’s boat but added: ‘They are asking for £3,000 to take our family to your country. I do not have that kind of money. I am scared of the traffickers anyway.

‘They are dangerous men and have their agents all over Calais trumping up business. This is not a nice place to be. I do not know what we will do next if we can’t get to the UK.’

Kamal believes there is no future in France. Claiming asylum is difficult, the process lengthy, and even those who do manage it find work hard to come by.

Meanwhile, in a sign of France’s new hostility toward migrants, I was told that the Calais authorities are clamping down on charities delivering food to the hungry.

‘They come one day, but not the next,’ a 22-year-old Afghan, Mahmoud, told me as I stopped to talk to him near the hospital.

‘It is a way of wearing us migrants down, of making us feel unwelcome. It is a form of torture. They hope we will give up and leave, but we have nowhere else to go.

‘I have tried to get to the UK on lorries, the last time was a few hours ago. We hope that England will be kinder to us than France.’

One thing is clear. As the French make them more unwelcome, it stiffens the migrants’ belief that the streets of London, Birmingham and Manchester are the place to be. And every day they live in misery in Calais, that determination grows stronger.

Migrants are seen sitting in Calais town square in the late evening. The number of successful Channel crossings peaked two weeks ago with a record of 235 on just one day

Migrants are seen sitting in Calais town square in the late evening. The number of successful Channel crossings peaked two weeks ago with a record of 235 on just one day

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