British Border Force and immigration officers were on Tuesday deployed to northern France to help their Gallic counterparts clear more than 800 migrants from a makeshift camp that sprung up in Dunkirk.
The Home office said the joint operation was “at the invitation of the French authorities and is part of the UK’s ongoing work with France to tackle the number of people attempting to reach the UK illegally by small boat”.
The makeshift camp, which had been erected outside a gymnasium near the northern port last spring, was recently deemed a health and security hazard by a local court.
The Home Office said it had dispatched staff to the camp over the weekend “to inform people about the harsh realities of crossing the Channel in small boats and entering the UK illegally”.
In what it has dubbed Operation Focal, the officers were sent to counter “the misinformation being spread by other sources, including organised crime groups, about making the journey and what life is like for migrants who reach the UK”.
“People thinking about making the perilous journey across the English Channel in a small boat are taking a huge risk with their lives and the lives of their children,” said immigration minister, Seema Kennedy.
“We are determined to put an end to this reckless and illegal activity by stopping boats from leaving French shores. We are working closely with French authorities at all levels and the deployment of UK officials to Dunkirk is part of our ongoing joint commitment to tackling this.”
Last week, a record 86 migrants crossed the Channel and reached the UK in six separate boats in just one day, bringing the total to 1,256 people reaching the UK across the busy waterway illegally this year.
In comparison, 297 people were caught attempting to enter Britain through the Channel in 2018.
The mayor of Grande-Synthe opened the gym to migrants last December to keep families out of the cold, and had planned to close it with the return of warmer weather.
But hundreds of mainly young Iraqi Kurd men then pitched tents around the site as they planned illegal attempts to reach Britain.
The government later installed water faucets, bathrooms and showers after aid groups successfully filed a complaint on humanitarian grounds with France’s state council.
But this month the city’s mayor requested and obtained a court order to close the camp, citing local complaints of violence, litter and the presence of people-smugglers among the migrants.
French authorities have vowed to avoid a repeat of “the Jungle”, a sprawling camp near the northern port city of Calais that at one stage housed some 10,000 people.
Martial Beyaert, the mayor of Grande-Synthe said yesterday that he expected people to start returning “very soon” after “just one more evacuation”.
“We can’t force people to start the process of integrating in France,” he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to accelerate the asylum claims process for bona fide refugees while speeding up the deportation of so-called economic migrants.
Last month, Home Secretary Priti Patel met with her French counterpart Christophe Castaner and pledged to “intensify joint action to tackle small boat crossings in the Channel” by “drawing up an enhanced action plan to deploy more resources along the French coast to intercept and stop crossings”.