For a year, migrants’ attempts to cross the Channel from the Somme coast have multiplied. A phenomenon difficult to contain for the local authorities, despite the establishment of a reinforced monitoring system.
On Wednesday November 24, 27 people lost their lives trying to cross the Channel from Calais. A dramatic shipwreck which raises the question of the migratory crisis as far as the Somme.
On the Picardy coast, more and more attempts have been made since last year. “Previously, we were in a flow control logic, the Somme being a transit department for migrants leaving for Pas-de-Calais and the North. And then we saw things evolve with a descent of the departures of migrants south of the bay of Authie, to Mers-les-Bains where there were attempts», Summarizes the sub-prefect of Abbeville, Philippe Fournier Montgieux.
At the end of September, 37 migrants were intercepted by the gendarmes in Quend. A little over a month later, they were 49, found in a state ofhypothermia in the dunes of Saint-Quentin-en-Tourmont. In total, there are 15 starting attempts since the start of the year against 5 in 2020.
Attempts with precarious means, often makeshift boats like the one found this summer in Fort-Mahon. “They couldn’t go because the engine was too weak to put 50 people on it. As soon as they cross the first waves, the boat turns around and we find everyone in the water and that’s catastrophic“, Deplores the mayor of the town, Alain Baillet.
“What happened in Calais could have happened off Quend or Fort-Mahon, adds the sub-prefect of Abbeville. The English Channel is a dangerous sea. It is sheared by ferries and freighters: 300 boats per day in one direction or the other.“
To prevent departures, the authorities have stepped up controls with night patrols, a horse brigade or even drone surveillance. “The main objective for public officials is to preserve human life. It is extremely dangerous to leave from the south of Authie Bay because it is more than 100 kilometers east of the British coast. And then it is also a question of arresting the smugglers.”
When attempts to leave are aborted, people in an irregular situation are taken care of by the gendarmerie. Each situation is examined and an obligation to leave French territory is generally distributed. “They finally leave freely, so we will find them a little later in the same place”, says the sub-prefect of Abbeville.
The elected officials of the coastal municipalities thus work with the gendarmerie and provide rooms for those intercepted. “We were able to discuss with them, they are people who are in the most total misfortune, they are whole families, pregnant women, or mothers with children often very young., describes Alain Baillet. What we can do is welcome them in a room, give them a little warmth, offer them a coffee, a chocolate, a croissant while waiting for the identity checks to be made, but it is all. We are a little helpless.“
In the years to come, will we one day see camps set up on the Picardy coast as in Calais? The prefecture replies that it is not worried about this subject. “The action of the State services ensures that we do not have this type of installation on the coast of the Somme. The camps remain concentrated on Calais and Grande-Synthe because it is the proximity of the departure areas that justifies it.“, concludes the sub-prefect of Abbeville.
Since January 1, 2021, 31,500 migrants have left the Hauts-de-France coast and 7,800 were rescued in the English Channel.