Dozens of police officers are powerless on French beaches as people smugglers exploit loopholes to pack dinghy

World

So here’s a story of a morning at the beach. There’s no ice cream, no sandcastles and no sense of fun in this tale – but there are criminal gangs, dune buggies and desperate people.

The beach is an illustration of the lengths people will go to, the risks they will take, just to try to get to Britain. And things start early.

We arrive at the beach at about 4am. There is a beautiful orange sunset on the way and barely a whisper of wind. But down on the shore, things are happening.

A group of people are getting on to a dinghy and slowly heading out into the Channel.

As we arrive, the boat is making its way toward Britain, while the people smugglers are heading back toward their hiding places in the dunes.

More will follow. A little later, we see another boat come around the headland, chugging slowly along.

As we’re watching, a crowd of people – men, women and children – start hurrying down the beach.

We can see them as they head towards the shore, splashing through the water to try to get on to the boat.

As we catch up and film the scene, three of the Kurdish smugglers start shouting at us. They may not speak English but, safe to say, they know a few swear words.

By now, the sun has risen. Smugglers used to only send people out under the cover of darkness, but now they are more bold.

From Adam Parsons VT

Boat launches happen quickly these days. Smugglers have worked out that it’s much more efficient to launch the boat elsewhere and bring it round to the beach, allowing your passengers to run into the water and clamber aboard.

And, under maritime law, there’s not much the French police can do to get involved.

They’re not allowed to enter the water to stop a boat that hasn’t asked for help and, well, it’s not illegal for migrants to run into the water.

Basically, there are loopholes that smugglers have learned to exploit, and which hinder and frustrate the police. And we’re about to see that play out.

Read more:
People smuggler ‘at peace’ with dying on the job

A large, black dinghy comes into sight, heading in our direction. This time, though, there is a reaction.

On the beach, the police are gathering, ready to puncture the vessel if it comes on land.

Two teams of officers have arrived on the dune buggies they drive across the beaches; others have walked down. I count 25 officers at one point.

On the water, a police boat – its blue lights flashing – is circling the dinghy, building up waves and trying to knock it off course, to stop it from reaching the waters near the beach, where a group of people are now slowly gathering, a little way from both the water and the police.

The police boat continues to zig-zag, but the dinghy, with five men on board, is resolute.

A police boat near the dinghy
Image:
A police boat near the dinghy

It perseveres and, as it nears the water, the men offer up a signal, and there is a sudden surge from the beach.

The group who had been waiting quietly now rush forward, past the police and into the sea. They wade into the water and set out towards the boat.

And we follow them, striding into water that rapidly rises to the top of our legs. Two men stride past, each cradling a child. I can see people scrambling to get on to the boat.

A minute ago, the atmosphere of these people had been deliberate and calm. Now, it feels chaotic.

A woman’s cry, desperate and imploring, rings out. She has drifted away from the boat and, despite wearing a life jacket, she is struggling in the water.

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One of the smugglers comes over and brings her back to the boat, helping her on.

Some children are crying; others simply seem bewildered.

The last two people to get on are men, who pull themselves up and out of the water with a huge effort.

Everyone on board is drenched; many have lost or dropped the bags they’d brought with them. But they are on a dinghy, and now, with a jolt, the engine is pulled into action and they start their journey towards British waters.

We stride back through the water and reach the shore. The police have been watching, filming the boat on their phones, powerless to stop anything happening.

And beyond them is another crowd of migrants, now walking away from the beach. The ones who couldn’t get on to this boat, or who decided it was simply too dangerous.

Those that couldn't make it to the dinghy headed back
Image:
Those that couldn’t make it to the dinghy headed back

Among them is Rebaz, from Iraq, who’s trying to get to Britain with his wife and his two small children, one of them just five months old.

In his home country, he insists, his whole family would be at risk. Rebaz says the family, including their baby, has been sleeping out in the cold.

He dreams of getting across the Channel.

“We have tried four times to get across,” he tells me.

“Will you try again?” I ask.

A shrug.


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“Yes, of course because I don’t have any solution. I know it will be very dangerous for me and for my children. But when you don’t have any solution… I will try,” he said.

“I don’t want to take money from anyone. I just want to live a life, be safe and make a life for my children.”

His daughter clings on to his neck as he talks, Rebaz holding her close. He has a desperation to get to Britain, a belief that crossing the Channel will right the wrongs of his life.

And, as long as people have that belief, the smugglers will have customers.

Watch special programme on migration crisis with Yalda Hakim on Sky News from 9pm tonight

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