Opened 2 years ago

#559 new defect

The windswept beaches of opportunity and fear

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The windswept beaches of opportunity and fear

The brutal journeys migrants make across the Channel are book-ended with beaches that tell the story of the crisis in microcosm: from guerrilla-style smuggling operations among the French dunes to streams of soaking passengers washing ashore in Kent, waiting to be bussed to an unknown future.

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Hidden in the scrubby sand of the dunes of northern France are the calling cards of an international criminal industry: a discarded life-jacket, a rucksack, a petrol canister.

It is an industry that is sophisticated enough to commission specially-made boats and transport them across EU borders, but crude enough to hide clients for hours in scrubland before packing them on board.

On Wednesday, 27 people were confirmed dead after their inflatable boat capsized - by far the worst tragedy since these crossings began. But the very next morning, more vessels left France's northern shores for England, packed with people undeterred by the horror of what had happened the day before.

New arrivals in the camps here are given tips on how to find their people-smuggler. One young man, who had recently made it from Afghanistan, was told to look for "the Kurdish man" hanging around during food distribution twice a week. No-one the BBC spoke to had any problems finding someone to take them across.

The smuggling networks often use migrants themselves to manage logistics on the ground. These are one-time residents of the camps in northern France who've grown disillusioned with the challenge of getting out, and are simply looking to make some money, or who still hold out hope of leaving, and need to earn their place on a boat.

They serve as look-outs, hidden at intervals along the coast, sometimes for days in advance of a crossing. They note down the movements of security forces and alert their smuggler colleagues when it's time for passengers to break out of hiding and run down the beach to the sea.

Those hiding would have been told earlier that day to leave their camp. They would then usually have met at a secret rendezvous point before making a long walk to the coast - during which, migrants say, there are strict rules on behaviour, talking and mobile phones - and finally enduring a long wait concealed in the dunes.

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