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Home » Inside The Seaside Town Where Migrants Fire Kalashnikov Rifles Keeping Terrified Locals Up

Inside The Seaside Town Where Migrants Fire Kalashnikov Rifles Keeping Terrified Locals Up

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Migrants cook under gazebos outside Grande-Synthe (Image: Stan Kujawa)

The mid-afternoon September sun beats down on Bernard Mikolajek as he tends to his vehicle in the car park of Grande-Synthe’s only shopping centre.

He and wife Beatrice, who is dressed in a floral blouse befitting of the unseasonal heat, live around 300 metres from the single-storey out-of-town retail complex.

Via a translator, the 70-year-old tells the Daily Express: “What’s not told by the media, is that the people here, hear more and more fired shots.”

Breaking out of French he adds: “Not only single shots [but] automatic fire. It’s like the Kalashnikov perhaps.”

The shots he refers to almost certainly emanate from the other side of the Canal de Bourbourg, a thin band of water situated around 2km to the west of the suburb on the outskirts of Dunkirk.

Migrants make the short walk back to their camp with a trolley (Image: Stan Kujawa)

Local resident Guy also confirmed he had heard shots (Image: Stan Kujawa)

The canal, Bernard explains, is “a barrier” between the 20,000 inhabitants of Grande-Synthe and the collection of migrant camps that lie beyond it.

The pensioner, himself a descendant of Polish immigrants, adds that despite the cracks of gunfire and the daily trudge of mainly young men from the tented settlement across the water, “it was more of a problem when the refugee camp was inside the town”.

The idea that a lawless pop-up suburb of unidentified travellers is a relative improvement speaks to the scale of the mismanagement of Grande-Synthe’s refugee crisis.

It’s a sentiment shared by 63-year-old Normandy-native turned Grande-Synthe local, Guy. As the former PE teacher, wearing a French national team away shirt, strides towards the entrance of the shopping centre where a group of migrants are sitting, he tells our reporter: “There has been a time where there were a lot of gunshots, near the Decathlon.

“I was a sports teacher and we were doing sports around the lake and sometimes we heard some gunshots.”

Migrants sit outside the commercial centre (Image: Stan Kujawa)

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Bernard and Beatrice say they can hear gunfire from their house (Image: Stan Kujawa)

The stout Frenchman, his eyes hidden behind a pair of sunglasses, adds that “now it’s kind of better” that the camp is out of town, but he concedes that relocating migrants is nothing more than kicking the can down the road.

In large part, he says, the sprawling mess of migrants scattered across northern France is the fault of the politicians sitting on the other side of the English Channel.

Gesticulating wildly, he says: “England should change their politics. If they don’t change, it won’t change here.”

With a parting jibe towards our reporter about England’s chances in the Rugby World Cup, the retired sports teacher resumes his march towards the shopping centre and the migrants that sit beside it.

The camps they’ve sauntered down from appear as hellish as local charity workers had warned earlier in the day.

Fights amongst the armed inhabitants of the overgrown communities are commonplace.

There is a smattering of women and children in the vicinity of a railway line, but the vast majority of those milling around under a bridge and in the undergrowth are male.

Sat next to the railway line running underneath the D601 heading into Grande-Synthe, the settlement visible from the main road is teeming with activity.

A migrant relaxes in the makeshift camp (Image: Stan Kujawa)

Rubbish left outside the entrance of the camp (Image: Stan Kujawa)

Men take it in turns to dunk their heads under a tap that juts out from a white plastic water tank, while those on the opposite side of the quiet country road share heated conversations in the shade under makeshift gazebos.

Some of the men are tending to industrial saucepans of stew, while others oversee steaming pots of tea sat on hot coals.

A barren strip of dried mud acts as this camp’s “high street” according to a 41-year-old Kurdish Iraqi, who asks to be called ‘B’.

He speaks with an English lilt as he cradles a small bowl of green lentils. Unshaven, carrying bags beneath his eyes, he explains that he’d lived in England for 21 years having moved from Iraq when he was 16.

Cocksure B reels off a list of English cities he onced called home: “England is my home, I feel like it’s my home, if I go to England I don’t feel like I am all away from family, no.

“I know every little corner in Birmingham, Manchester, Dover – I used to live in Dover too. I had a son in Dover.”

He’s frank about why he finds himself living in an end-of-days-style camp on the outskirts of Grande-Synthe, waiting to return to the country he once called home.

The dishevelled Iraqi explains that he’s a convicted criminal and that he was deported in 2019 after serving time in Elmley’s Category B/C facility in Kent and Belmarsh, which he brands “the worst prison in England”.

‘B’, who served time in Belmarsh before being deported, smokes a joint in the camp (Image: Stan Kujawa)

He’s coy on the crimes that landed him in a jail notorious for housing those deemed a threat to national security, saying simply that he went down for “fighting, driving whilst disqualified, driving without insurance [and] driving without a licence”.

Despite being a hardened ex-con, B has some sage advice for our reporter. Motioning down the muddy strip, he says: “Here is sort of like a High Street, public area, you know?

“If you go inside the jungle, like where [there are] a lot of trees, I advise you not to go.There are a lot of people [that] are afraid of journalists and police and all that s***.

“So if they see you and you say you are a journalist they might start causing problems you know. Even me myself, I’m here, I don’t go [there].”

Our investigator asks whether firearms are particularly prevalent among the migrants, to which B ominously replies: “I heard the shots sometimes but I never see.”

Inside this Grande-Synthe camp, B’s history of crime and detention in Britain is not unusual.

Migrants queue for food just outside the camp (Image: Stan Kujawa)

Another Kurdish-Iraqi lingering at the entrance of the bustling high street claims “I done too many years in England in prison.”

The mechanic, whose tobacco-stained teeth and thinning hair belied his claim that he was 33, says: “I been in Belmarsh. I been in Rochester. I been in Elmley. The best prison is Rochester.”

Matter-of-factly he explains: “When you’re in house and you’re there, it’s nice. Shower in cell, everything. Phone in the cell.”

Much like B, the nameless Iraqi, who says he came to Britain in 2003 “on a truck”, is guarded about his crimes. He says simply: “I done a lot.”

Despite being defensive about his past, he’s candid in his beliefs about the political contentiousness of the route to the UK he intends to take.

Standing in the sun, cigarette in hand, he reveals how he’d respond if migrants from around the world descended on the place he called home: “Truly, if that happened to my country, I don’t accept that. I tell you the truth. If that happened in my country I don’t accept it.

“In that situation I can’t get a council house.”

As a supposedly vulnerable migrant, the smoking mechanic’s candour about the costs of uncontrolled illegal migration is a luxury that many born in western countries feel they cannot afford.

For the residents of Grande-Synthe, however, expressing how they feel about the city’s asylum seeker nightmare is not something they’re shy about.

Vanessa doesn’t her let kids out to play (Image: Stan Kujawa)

In the centre of the city, Vanessa, a 39-year-old check-out worker in Grande-Synthe’s Au Quotidien boulangerie, is upfront about what the burgeoning population of young undocumented men means for how she lives her life.

Across the counter of the empty patisserie shop, she says: “I don’t let my girls, my daughters, go outside at night because I’m too scared.

“People used to go to a lake that’s here in town to jog and do sport, and now the refugees are there and they are too scared and they don’t go there anymore to run or anything.”

The bleach-blonde employee adds solemnly: “It’s not a good reputation for the town”.

North-eastern France is littered with broken towns and weary souls, as migrants, both the vulnerable and the criminal, continue to use the region to launch their bids for fresh starts in Britain.

Those living in the landmark coastal cities of Calais and Dunkirk understandably receive sympathy from those that take an interest in this seemingly never ending migration crisis. But spare a thought for the people of Grande-Synthe and those living in towns and villages just like it. They too continue to suffer a nightmare from which they can’t seem to wake up.