On the beach in northern France, the mass of footprints were all heading one way – into the Channel, and straight to England.
French police had seen three boatloads of migrants waiting for the bus towards the coast the previous night – they had done nothing to stop them.
As was evidenced in the tracks they left behind, at some point in the night one of the groups had emerged from hiding in the dunes and made their way to the beach.
The outline of a dinghy in the sand, two discarded boxes of ‘Doublequick Air Pumps’, a canister of engine oil, half empty water bottles, even a dropped new mobile phone, told a graphic story.
In the darkness, the migrants had pumped up a dinghy, carried it to the waves 200 yards away, and set sail for Dover.
On the beach in northern France, the mass of footprints were all heading one way – into the Channel, and straight to England
Local police on the beach at the seaside town of Gravelines in Northern France, popular with people traffickers due to the large beach and sand dunes
Hot meals for the migrants served by volunteers in a field close to Grand-Synthe, Dunkirk, Northern France
There were many footprints left by the passengers carrying their own boat to the sea. None was pointing back to the dunes. Only after we had traced the tracks at Gravelines beach did three armed officers from the French Police Nationale turn up on foot.
‘Yes, it will have been migrants,’ their female sergeant told us. ‘No, we do not know where they are now.’
And while on previous visits the Mail has witnessed police mob-handed guarding key beaches on the many miles of coastline nearest to England, these three were the only officers we saw yesterday. That, and tyre-marks of a four-wheel drive that similarly missed the boat. Too little, too late.
Saturday’s tragedy, with at least six Afghans drowned in the Channel, seemed to have done nothing to spur increased French vigilance, despite the £480million funding the authorities receive from Britain’s Home Office.
In the sprawling encampment area near Dunkirk by a disused railway line, where up to 1,000 migrants wait to take their chance on the waves, the deaths have had similarly little impact. Instead, the breakout of sunny weather and calm seas, after weeks of poor weather, has brought hope.
But there is also fear among those surviving here, with an increasingly tense atmosphere, and claims of gunshots fired in the hours before Saturday’s tragedy, as Afghans bargained for their places on crowded Kurdish-run dinghies.
Yet every day more migrants arrive, many since the weekend. Drownings, let alone vague talk of flights to Rwanda or being sent to live on a barge in England, are of little concern.
Muhamed, 28, from Afghanistan, only arrived on this springboard to the promised land yesterday. The death of six countrymen just two days earlier was like something from previous generation.
‘Yes, we have heard about them,’ he said. ‘Yes, they say they were from Afghanistan. But that’s life.’
Muhamed is paying 1,500 euros to get to England. ‘Maybe tomorrow,’ he smiled.
He and a friend were queuing in a field for free spaghetti in a chicken and vegetable sauce, with a piece of baguette, fruit salad and coffee on the side. A mixed group of French pensioners and boy and girl scouts had turned up in vans, and set up a couple of trestle tables to serve the free meals from insulated containers.
The outline of a dinghy in the sand, two discarded boxes of ‘Doublequick Air Pumps’, a canister of engine oil, half empty water bottles, even a dropped new mobile phone, told a graphic story
Foot prints of migrants heading towards the sea on the beach at Gravelines, signs of a boat already left for England
Detritus left behind by migrants bound for England on the beach at Gravelines, Northern France
Within moments, 250 migrants from Asia and Africa, mainly men aged 20-40 but including several dozen women, some fully veiled, and maybe a dozen children, had arrived to eat.
Clutching polystyrene food boxes, they sat in national groups – Afghans, Indians, Eritreans, Syrians and Iraqi Kurds. A group of South Sudanese sat well apart. Group spokesman David, 25, said: ‘I’ve been here 20 days.’
A relatively long wait, determined by his group’s hopes to fill spare places on boats, at a bargain 500 euros.
‘I haven’t got that,’ he said, smiling ruefully. ‘I have nothing.’
Ravi, 31, from India, has already paid out 1,500 euros for an aborted trip last Tuesday, he said, and needed more for another try.
‘The motor broke down after two hours,’ he said. ‘I had to call the Calais police to bring us back, 55 people from Vietnam, Albania, India – you do not ask the people smugglers for your money back. That would bring problems.’
Iraqi Kurd Farhad, 33, has known the straggled encampments and makeshift migrant shops under gazebos here, between Loon-Plage and Grande-Synthe, for years. The only changes have been for the worse. ‘Police were looking for people smugglers after 27 drowned in the Channel two years ago,’ he said. ‘People are scared to say anything to outsiders, because they will be beaten, or worse.’
A water bottle is seen lying in the sand surrounded by footprints where migrants have left for England
Footprints pointing towards the sea suggest a recent travelling across the Channel from France to England
Natacha Bouchart, mayor of Calais, has constituents angered by the camps outside towns in the region, and believes only designating the region a ‘border zone’ and massively increased security can stem the crossings.
That and changes in British law to stop migrants working. Migrants should be ‘automatically removed’ from the north coast she said, and kept away to ‘free them from the malevolent influence of smugglers’.
Couple that with a ‘modification of British employment law’, and the crisis would end, she added. Ikram Nasseri, 21, from Afghanistan, was unconcerned by the authorities’ plans. He has been in France for years but was hoping to leave for England last night.
‘We don’t like it here,’ he said. ‘The French are racist, and if you work without the correct papers, they treat you like nothing. I have family in Birmingham, I can work there.’