Breakfast time in Dunkirk, and a trafficker in a black top brutally marches a large crowd of migrants down a street crowded with French shoppers buying their baguettes.
With all the confidence of an official tourist guide, he leads his crowd to a local bus stop. There, the 70 or so Iraqis and Iranians — some with small children on their shoulders — accompany him aboard for the hour-long road trip to the beach where a black dinghy waits to take them illegally to England.
This was the scene Wednesday morning in the French port, even as many gendarmes were on patrol to stop this latest addition to the flow of illegal migrants crossing the Channel from France.
What we saw shows that the migrant crisis on the northern French coast is now spiraling out of control. The number reaching Britain has crossed the 31,000 mark this year, and historic Dunkirk – the scene of an iconic evacuation of more than 300,000 British and French troops during the war – is gripped by traffickers seeking to exploit their multi-millionaires. million pounds of human trafficking with impunity and no fear of the authorities.
Migrants are led from the large migrant camp outside Dunkirk to the nearby bus stop to travel to Fort Des Dunes beach where the group waited to catch a boat to the UK
We watched the trafficker and his paying customers for over four hours that day. First, we saw the group walking quickly along a road leading from the migrants’ tent camp a few miles outside Dunkerque.
We saw them reach the bus stop at a shopping center on the outskirts of town. They waited there for a few minutes before boarding the C2 bus at 9:40 AM and traveling the four miles to Fort des Dunes in the nearby seaside town of Leffrinckoucke.
The bus was so full of migrants, all seats and standing occupied, that the French who wanted to board in Dunkirk and at stops along the way had to wait for the next bus.
When I spoke to the bus driver, a young Frenchman with a hipster beard, to ask if he thought his passengers were really migrants, he told me clearly: ‘Clandestins allant en Angleterre’ (‘Illegals going to England’). He rolled his eyes wearily and warned me not to get in, but to wait fifteen minutes later for the next bus on the same route, with fewer passengers.
An hour later, after following his C2 bus from Dunkirk, we saw the trafficker’s group disembark at a stop on a narrow street in Fort des Dunes called Rue de 2 juin 1940, named after the commemoration of its own military dead of France in Leffrinckoucke during the Dunkirk evacuation.
The migrants emerged from the vehicle, still led by the trafficker who carefully guided them across the road via a crosswalk. They headed for a small pedestrian bridge that spans an interurban railroad, which descends to a residential area in Leffrinckoucke. With the trafficker still leading the way, the migrants quickly passed row houses with Gallic names, such as one that the novelist Emile Zola celebrates.
Migrants on a boat leave France for the beach of Fort Des Dunes.
Fifteen minutes later they had reached the wooden gate of a tree-filled nature park, a favorite of local dog walkers and hikers, called Dune Dewulf.
Numerous trails lead through the park to the town’s miles of beach from where you can see the white cliffs of Dover on a clear day.
As the group went through the gate, we last saw the trafficker in his black top.
However, the migrants left the park three hours later and ran up the sand to the blown-up dinghy they knew would be there because people-smuggling gangs had pinned the location on their cell phones.
They blew up the boat and by 1:40 pm at least 50 of the migrants on board could be seen in red life jackets as they headed for England amid French sailboats and windsurfers. Maritime tracking stations, monitored by the Mail that day, show that no French naval lifeboat stopped them on their way.
This group is believed to have reached the south coast of England with one of 15 boats that brought 667 migrants to the UK from the beaches of northern France on Wednesday.
If the journey we’ve been on was a one-off, that would be worrying enough. But later that day, the Post saw another group of 40 migrant customers, also led by their smuggling guide, traveling by bus from Dunkirk to Fort des Dunes.
This group got off the bus at the last stop, a terminus next to the beach, before passing tourists eating ice cream in forests of high dunes overlooking the sea before disappearing too.
The area is a paradise for people smugglers. It is dotted with brick fortifications, built in the 19th century to protect France from invasion, but still bear the scars of the 1940 evacuation. These fortifications are now used to hide migrants. High above the beach, they are also perfect vantage points where traffickers can watch the police scout the coast in four-wheel drive vehicles in an attempt to stop the launches.
Sue Reid: ‘The area is a paradise for people smugglers. It is dotted with brick fortifications, built in the 19th century to protect France from invasion, but still bear the scars of the 1940’s evacuation’
Last year, the mayor of Leffrinckoucke, Olivier Ryckebusch, said his town was overwhelmed by the number of migrants waiting to cross over to the UK. “We feel helpless,” he said, before asking President Macron for emergency funds to clean up the mess left behind by illegal travelers in the woods and on the beach.
‘On the ground you can see the debris of means of transport: packaging from boats, life jackets and their old petrol cans (for making fires). Families are waiting to get to England from here on the beach. Then we have to collect the waste and somehow dispose of it in our city.’
But Leffrinckoucke is not alone. At seven o’clock on Thursday, we learned that the traffickers had changed tactics, as they often do.
They had moved their launch operations overnight to Grand Fort Philippe, a beach on the other side of Dunkirk.
We got there early and saw row after row of migrants running from the sand dunes and nearby trees to the beach where they were desperately trying to blow up boats.
This time, the French police were the first to arrive. They quickly came in to pierce the inflatable boats, rendering them unworthy. The rubber carcasses remained in the sand as the intended occupants tried pathetically to carry what was left—the outboard motors and metal prop props in the bottoms of the boats—back into the dunes.
It was a sort of triumph for the forces of law and order. But the traffickers, who have been embedded on this coast for 20 years, are not easy to defeat – they have “organized a military operation on land and at sea in great detail,” we were told by a senior gendarme in Dunkirk. “They run the show.”
It’s definitely a cat and mouse game. And at this point, only the mouse wins. For if each of the migrants on the 9.40am bus from Dunkirk paid the going rate of at least £2,000 to the smugglers’ tour guide for their journey to Britain, he will be a very rich man today.