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Decathlon in Calais stops selling canoes due to Channel crossing risk

The sports retailer said the boats could be used to cross to the UK, which would endanger the lives of migrants attempting the route. It comes as illegal Channel crossings increase, as do French-UK diplomatic tensions

A person newly arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel has his documents checked by UK authorities Pic: Edward Crawford / Shutterstock

Decathlon has taken the decision to stop selling canoes in two of its shops in Calais and Grande-Synthe in the north of the country due to concerns that migrants are putting themselves in danger by using them to attempt to cross the Channel to the UK. 

"The purchase of canoes will no longer be possible given the current context," Decathlon confirmed to news service AFP. It said that they “could be used to cross the Channel” and in such instances “people’s lives would be endangered”.

Last Friday (November 12), three people were reported missing after trying to cross from France to the UK in canoes, while the day before two canoes were found off the coast of Calais and two people were rescued from the water.

Decathlon has stated that canoes will still be available to purchase online and in other stores. Safety equipment, such as life-jackets and thermal clothing, will continue to be sold in the Calais and Grande-Synthe shops.

The decision comes as the number of migrants attempting crossings on small vessels between the two countries increases. The vast majority of them intend to seek asylum.

A record number of 1,185 people crossed to the UK last Thursday, British figures show. The previous record for one day was 853 people, on November 3. 

More than 23,000 people have made unofficial crossings from France to the UK since January 1, the BBC reports. This is significantly higher than the 8,400 in 2020, and also higher than in the years before the coronavirus pandemic. 

London and Paris tensions

The crossing of migrants from France to the UK has led to increased tensions between the two capitals, with both countries trading accusations earlier this week.

A spokesperson for the UK Home Office said the record number of crossings last Thursday was “unacceptable”.

The official spokesperson for the UK prime minister also said on Monday that France had to do more with the £54m that the UK government has paid to France to increase coastal patrols and surveillance. 

This came as France’s interior minister Gérald Darmanin said that, “we don't need lessons from the British”, and that they should “stop using us as a punchbag in their domestic politics”.

He directed his comments directly to the UK’s home secretary Priti Patel, saying in an interview with CNews:

“I would remind my British counterpart that the NGOs that prevent the police and the gendarmerie from working are largely British NGOs with British citizens who are on French soil and doing [political propaganda]. 

“The smugglers, who organise networks and exploit women and children… are very often in Britain,” he said.

He also said that the abundance of unofficial labour in the UK was what attracted migrants to the country. 

“The labour market in Great Britain functions largely thanks to a reserve army, as Karl Marx would say, of irregular people who can work at low cost. 

“If the British changed their legislation very strongly - they have done so, but not enough - people would no longer be in Calais or Dunkirk.

“We are the ones who suffer from British policy. The roles should not be reversed.”

After the storm, a calm

The two ministers held talks on Monday in which they agreed to continue joint action to tackle the problem and make the route unviable for people attempting to cross. 

Both Tweeted a renewed promise of cooperation, with Mr Darmanin writing:

“We will continue our operational cooperation and strengthen our joint action against smuggling networks.”

The two ministers committed to using new technology to cut down on illegal crossings, and also to strengthen intelligence sharing and police cooperation.

Darmanin dismantles 

A large camp of over 1,000 people in Grande-Synthe was dismantled yesterday (November 16) by police and gendarmes. It was considered the main migrant camp in the commune. 

The people who were living there are to be taken to centres where accommodation has been found, in the Nord and other regions.

“On my orders, the police are evacuating the illegal camp of migrants in Grande-Synthe this morning,” Mr Darmanin tweeted.

He also said that a network of human smugglers had been taken down in the Dunkirk area and that 13 people had been arrested, bringing the total number of arrests to 1,308 since January.

“These smugglers are criminals who exploit human misery and are responsible for illegal immigration,” Mr Darmanin said.

Photojournalist Louis Witter, said that the people in the camps were “not informed of the eviction”, which he said was one of the commitments made by the French government. 

“The tents of the exiles are first cut with a knife by the cleaning teams so as not to be reused, before being taken away,” he said.

The mayor of Grande-Synthe, Martial Beyaert, said that nearly 1,500 people, mostly Kurds, were living in this camp, located on a former industrial site.

“We have to find a solution for these people, especially as winter is coming. The state prevents them from going to sea and the state prevents them from staying here, it's a vicious circle,” Le Monde reports him as saying.

Anna, coordinator of the migrant support association Utopia 56, said that the government is “attacking people who have nothing, without ever working on the causes,” Le Monde reports.

A report by a parliamentary enquiry commission that was made public yesterday denounced the government’s policy and the failings of the State and Europe with regards to the conditions in which migrants are received and the difficulties they have in accessing rights.

In Calais, two NGO activists have been on hunger strike since October 11 to denounce the "inhumane" treatment of migrants and demand a moratorium on the dismantling of camps.

Why do these people wish to go to the UK?

There are several reasons why people wish to reach the UK, rather than staying in France. Some have family in the UK who they wish to join, others could have better economic prospects due to language skills, and others still, as Mr Darmanin suggested, possibly hope to find more unofficial job opportunities.

Another reason is linked to the Dublin Regulation, an EU law that states that the first EU country a migrant enters is responsible for assessing that person’s asylum request. For most, this means EU border countries such as Hungary, Italy or Greece. Some of the people camped in northern France do not wish to seek asylum in these countries, again for several reasons.

With the UK now outside of the EU, the Dublin Regulation no longer applies to it, so a person who reaches its shores could claim asylum there without risking being sent back to the first EU country they entered. 

Around 98% of all people who arrive in the UK via unofficial Channel crossings apply for asylum in the country, the BBC reports. 

Related stories:

Opinion: UK-France bickering is hard on us bicultural ‘kids’ in middle

French town unites to assist migrants

Explained: Why France plans to ban UK fishing boats from its ports

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