French police have evacuated migrants from a makeshift camp near Dunkirk where at least 1,500 people had gathered in hopes of making it across the English Channel to Britain.
Migrants, including some families with young children, packed their few belongings as police encircled the camp early on Tuesday morning, on the site of a former industrial complex in Grande-Synthe, east of Dunkirk. Several buses were lined up near the camp.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said: “When we are dismantling a migrant camp, that’s above all to put people into shelters, especially as winter comes.”
French interior minister Gerald Darmanin and UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said they had a phone call on Monday evening about the issue of small boats used by migrants to try to cross the Channel.
“We are going to continue our operational co-operation and step up our common action against smugglers’ networks,” Mr Darmanin tweeted.
He also said that police dismantled a network of smugglers in the Dunkirk region, leading to 13 people being detained, adding that 1,308 people suspected of being smugglers have been arrested since the beginning of the year.
Aid group Utopia 56 said several evacuations of camps in the region have been organised in the past month with no adapted response to take care of migrants.
The group said the state organised no food distribution or toilet and shower facilities in the camps.
Local authorities have warned of dire sanitary conditions and overcrowding in the area, risks associated with the fast approaching winter and deepening tensions between migrants and traffickers that often turn violent.
Yann Manzi, founder of Utopia 56, said those clustered in Grande Synthe were primarily Iraqi Kurds who arrived through trafficking networks.
Most are trying to cross the English Channel in small inflatable boats, because police have made it harder to sneak on to trucks and ferries.
With its ports and tunnel to cross the English Channel, northern France has always been a magnet for people seeking to cross to Britain, fuelled by traffickers’ promises of a better life there.
The crossings are a source of friction between the UK and France, with British officials saying France should do more to stop boats leaving. France says Britain should do more to help French authorities manage the migrants and stop traffickers.
More than 23,000 people have reached the UK in small boats across the English Channel this year, including 1,185 on Thursday, a record for a single day.
T1housands more have been rescued at sea by French maritime authorities.