November 29, 2021

Decathlon Calais withdraws kayaks from shelves to avoid Channel crossings by migrants

Thursday, November 12, a morning dispatch announces that three migrants are missing at sea off Calais, after an attempt to cross in a kayak. A journalist from our editorial staff investigates this subject, recalling in his article that seven people are missing in a few weeks, off Calais, Dunkirk and Boulogne-sur-Mer. After crossings by kayak or boat. Another journalist from Calais has several times seen exiled people buying either life jackets, oars or a light craft in the Decathlon brand, Cailloux area in Calais. In early November, a firefighter, used to intervening to help migrants in distress in the Strait of Pas-de-Calais, posted elsewhere a message on social networks, saying to himself ” shocked “After seeing migrants buy” inflatable canoes and life jackets In the same store.

Can the sale of nautical articles be prohibited?

After these disappearances and the discovery of drowned in Wissant and off Dunkirk, we decide to question Decathlon. « Can we prohibit the sale of nautical items in certain stores and only reserve them in stores on order? Is this extraordinary situation being considered within the management? »For his part, the prefecture of Pas-de-Calais indicates that ” no prohibition measures are envisaged “. In July, however, this same prefecture regulated the take-away sale of fuel, in order to limit the possibility for migrants to use boats equipped with outboard motors. The sub-prefect of Calais, Véronique Deprès-Boudier, puts forward the difficulty for ” legally frame »A ban on the sale of small craft. Noting the limited effect of such a measure, since nautical equipment, ” also sold by supermarkets “Is easily found” on online sales platforms ».

The Decathlon store, in Calais. Photo SEBASTIEN JARRY LA VOIX DU NORD – VDNPQR

An unprecedented response from Décathlon

Decathlon France, through its press service, brings this Monday an unprecedented and strong response. « The recent increase in crossing attempts has indeed led our Decathlon Calais teams to wonder about the position to take on the sale of products that can be diverted from their sporting use and serve as boats to cross the Channel. In consultation with the teams, we will now ensure that we no longer allow the purchase of boats – kayaks in particular – which could endanger the lives of people using them as part of a trip.
sée. “And to continue:” We are committed to never putting our customers at risk in the use of our products, whatever the circumstances.. »

Decathlon Calais, which removed kayaks from its shelves on Friday, will however always sell safety equipment at sea (vests, oars, thermal protections, etc.). It remains to be seen whether this exceptional measure, which can only concern Calais, will be followed by other brands on the coast.

Kayaking, for the poorest migrants

This Saturday in Marck, during a distribution of breakfasts to migrants sleeping outside (the camp was dismantled this Tuesday morning), we met Abdel, 17, and Mamadou, 18. Convinced that the crossing with the oar is possible, in spite of the currents. « We join together to buy equipment », They advanced then, before affirming. ” If the boat turns over, we will end up swimming, like when we arrived in Melilla (Spanish enclave in Moroccan territory). We’ll get there God willing. In August 2020, a 28-year-old Sudanese drowned in Sangatte after attempting the crossing aboard an air mattress equipped with oars, bought in a discount store in Calais.

In September 2019, a migrant who was trying to cross the Channel in a kayak was recovered adrift off Gravelines.  PHOTO ARCHIVES

Kayaks, light inflatable boats and paddles even are the means of passage of the poorest migrants. What confirms Bernard Barron, president of the National Society for Rescue at Sea (SNSM) in Calais. « Those who use these boats, which are less numerous than those equipped with an engine, are not associated with a network of smugglers, they buy an inflatable kayak for three people for 300 €. We picked up a lot of migrants in difficulty on kayaks last summer. »

The Calais SNSM was at sea trying to find the three missing men last week. ” A kayak is like a flea in the middle of a highway, undetectable, continues Bernard Barron. In addition, it is very sensitive to wind and currents. You have to be very athletic to master it in the strait. »

Most of these small boats are semi-rigid equipped with an engine. There are no statistics on successful illegal rowing crossings. In 2020, the maritime prefecture of the Channel and the North Sea counted six deaths and three missing.