Hundreds of people including several families with young children have been evicted from a migrant camp in France, reviving fears this could prompt another spike in attempted Channel crossings.
Around 100 French police surrounded the Espace Jeunes du Moulin in Grande Synthe, a town in Dunkirk, at around 7am on Tuesday and escorted aid workers off the site, Care4Calais said.
A series of coaches arrived and officers escorted people who had been living in the gym and camping in its ground to get on board, the charity told the PA news agency.
Single men were taken out first and then families, some of whom were allowed to pack up their belongings before leaving.
Close to 1,000 people are thought to have been living on the site, including several pregnant women. A count carried out by charities last week found there were 73 families there – many of whom had young children.
The clearance took place after a court order was issued – reportedly in a bid to stop people smugglers coming into the gym and targeting their victims as well as to stem violence in the area.
Some refugees told aid workers they did not yet know where the coaches were taking them. It is understood one may be heading to Brest in the west of France.
Once the site was clear, officials moved in to dismantle tents and diggers arrived to clear rubbish left behind.
French police said they carried out the evacuation due to concerns over security and hygiene, according to Associated Press (AP).
Officials told AP the migrants are being taken to temporary shelters and allowed to apply for asylum.
Border Force and immigration officers were seen observing the process. The Home Office said its staff were invited by the French authorities to attend as part of its work with the UK to tackle the number of attempted boat crossings.
Over the weekend staff were sent to the camp to warn people of the risks of crossing the Channel in small boats, the department added.
Charity workers say the evictions are pointless as many will make their back to Dunkirk or Calais and resume their quest to get to the UK.
Care4Calais founder Clare Moseley said: “Continual forced evictions don’t affect the underlying issues that cause people to risk their lives crossing the Channel; even the total destruction of the Calais Jungle in October 2016 has not stopped this from happening.
“What they do is to further abuse some of the most vulnerable people in society – people who are already severely traumatised and who are desperate to protect their families.
“The men, women and children that we talk to every day do not want to take these risks; all they want is for their asylum claims to be heard.
“If there was a safe and legal way for this to happen it would stop them from risking their lives and stop people smugglers from being able to prey on them.”
Last week, families living in the camp told PA how they fled violence in Iraq and were trying to get to the UK so their children could have a safer life.
Most are staying there while they make the almost daily attempt to travel to the UK by any means available.
Several said they felt their only option was to somehow stump up the thousands of euros asked of them by smugglers in return for a place on a small boat crossing the Channel.
The wave of Channel crossings has continued over the last week after warnings migrant camp clearances in France would prompt more attempts.
On Monday, 29 migrants crossed the Channel and were handed over to UK immigration officials.
Two morning rescues resulted in groups of migrants – including four children – being taken to Dover by Border Force.
The French coastguard rescued another nine migrants, including two children, when the engine on their boat failed.
Police later found a woman and a child had come ashore at Fairlight Beach, Hastings, in East Sussex during the afternoon.
Some 41 migrants in four boats were found on Sunday.
On September 10, at least 86 men, women and children attempted the journey with some managing to land on beaches before being detained.
Last week, French police cleared another migrant camp in Calais on an almost daily basis.
Meanwhile, 29 arrests have been made in an investigation into a large migrant smuggling network, Europol said.
French and Spanish police swooped on the gang suspected of being involved in people trafficking and drug dealing.
They are thought to have preyed on lone children living in Spanish protection centres, encouraging them to escape before smuggling them to western Europe on board buses filled with drugs and animals used for hunting, a Europol spokesman said.
This follows the arrests of six British men last week by the National Crime Agency who are suspected of smuggling migrants.
The number of migrants taken in by UK authorities so far this year is thought to have already passed 1,000.
Border Force cutters are continuing to patrol the Channel while drones, CCTV and night vision goggles are used, the Home Office said.
Last month, Home Secretary Priti Patel said urgent action was needed to put a stop to the tide of crossings, after she met French interior minister Christophe Castaner in Paris.
More detail on the action plan is yet to be released.