‘We saw people struggling on board migrant boat’

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Several young men turned round to face the police, brandishing long sticks and throwing flares or firecrackers
By Andrew Harding
BBC News, northern France

We could see from the shore that the migrants’ inflatable boat was in trouble. It was overcrowded, with people clambering on the sides, and others standing up in the middle of it in the pre-dawn gloom.

There were a few bright orange life jackets in the water, and we could hear people shouting – but could not make out exactly what they were saying.

The French police stood in the shallows or on the beach. They had struggled to stop the migrants as they’d charged from the dark sand dunes towards the sea – a long rush across perhaps 300 metres (1,000 ft) of damp sand.

As the police, at least 15 in number, ran to get closer to the migrants, several young men turned round to face them, brandishing long sticks and throwing flares or firecrackers towards the police.

There were angry shouts and cries. Smoke drifted across the dark beach. The smugglers appeared to be forming a sort of human barrier around their paying passengers, as they all backed into the water.

Two women with a child, who could not keep up with the group, were stopped by the police on the shoreline. One said she was from Iraq and was desperate to join her family in the UK.

Once in the sea, police made no attempt to stop them.

Once the migrants had boarded the inflatable boat they’d been dragging across the sand the police made no further attempt to stop them.

At one point the overloaded boat appeared to be beached on a sand bar by the retreating tide but then it moved further out to sea.

Several people who had been unable to find a space on the boat then walked back to shore wearing their life jackets. The police arrested one man who, an officer suggested, might have supplied the boat to the migrants.

At that point, the police and the remaining migrants all began walking away from the water’s edge, back towards a carpark near the town of Wimereux.

We waited as the light grew stronger and could see that several small rescue boats had been launched from a large French maritime rescue ship off the coast. The rescue boats seemed to circle the now distant inflatable boat for a time.

It was only hours later that we learnt that there were dead onboard the inflatable.


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