There’s never been a better time to visit the immigrant camps of Grande-Synthe, but now seems particularly tough.
The mud is so deep that when you try to charge your phone, you can’t see your ankles. A puddle turns into a lake, straddling the width of the road through the camp.
And talking to some people who live here, they put both wood and hand gel in the hibachi to keep it burning.
A disappointing, dirty and dangerous place, but it has a purpose. This is a staging post for people preparing to go to the UK.
If you come to this camp, you can find smugglers looking to sell passage across the Channel. Someone who will tell you that if you pay the price, your dream of reaching the shores of England can come true.
A year has passed since 31 people died in light dinghies in the middle of the strait, but the desire to cross the strait seems undiminished.
We meet Ahmed, who is already trying to cross the strait and is determined to go again soon. There was evidence on his mobile phone and a map showing that he was approaching British territorial waters when his boat’s engine failed.
Had he gone a little further, his rescue party would have taken him not back to Northern France, but to Kent.
Then there’s Rebaz, who’s been trekking here from Kurdistan for months. He says it was torn up when he was near an airstrike in Iraq.
Rebaz believes NATO is responsible for the injuries, but decides to go to Britain because “I think life in the UK is better and I will go there for the future of my children”. is solidified.
When I asked him if he was worried about danger or the ghost of people dying in the Straits, he shrugged and seemed genuinely indifferent. tells me “Nobody’s scared here. I have to go. I have no other choice.”
A year ago, it was that drive that led 33 people to board the ill-fated boat when many died and only two survived. body has not been found.
An avid athlete who enjoyed Taekwondo and football, he always wanted to leave Iraq, see Europe and hopefully become a Premier League footballer.
His brother, Zana, described him as “no problem at home, on the street, at school, on the school team, or among friends.” He was “the family’s go-to man,” he said.
On the night he died, Towana had previously messaged his concerned brother to reassure him that everything would be fine, saying that the boat was in good working order and was on its way to the UK. was
Instead, the engine failed a short time later. Sky News has seen transcripts of phone and text conversations between people on the boat and French emergency services.
People on the boat called the French emergency service line, but no help was sent.
They were then told they needed to call British authorities as they were actually in British coastal waters.They said the boat was in French waters.
And so it went on hours later, with money passed and no information passed between the two authorities. The boat was swamped, but when I told the French about this, he replied, “It’s English water.”
Ultimately, the passengers were out to sea within hours after calling for help.
Instead, it fell on a fishing boat to raise the alarm after discovering a dead body in the water.
Xana is now in France trying to find out more about the circumstances surrounding his brother’s death. I’m here.
“Because this incident happened in waters between our two countries, our loved ones reached out to both countries and asked for help,” he says. “But none of them offered help.”
He says he now tells people not to follow in his brother’s footsteps. Avoid this dangerous crossing and think about their safety. And his advice is being ignored, he says.
“Even if someone tells us not to go on this voyage, they say, ‘Whatever God has in store for us, it will happen.
“So I tell them of Towana’s tragic journey, but this migration continues. And it will continue.”
and he is right. The number of people crossing the Strait has increased over the past year. Around 44,000 people have arrived in the UK using small boats since the November 2021 disaster.
In the evening of Dunkirk, the procession winds its way through the town. This is a memorial march in memory of his 31 who died.
It ends at a beach where the names of the victims are read out and hand-painted signs with their names embossed are hung. Towana’s name is there, along with everyone else – a catalog of mostly young lives truncated short in the most dire circumstances.
At the time, it seemed like a tragedy that demanded change. But in reality, boats are still sailing, smugglers are still cashing in, and camps are still bustling with people.
And so long as desperate people continue to traverse the world’s busiest shipping lanes in fragile, fragile vessels, the possibility of another disaster seems terrifyingly inevitable.