WIMEREUX, France (Reuters) – Bundled from the cold in black woolly hats and puffy coats, some in red life jackets, they hauled the rubber dinghy on their shoulders and heads under a steely November sky, over the dunes towards the beach.
France says it is working hard to prevent migrants from attempting the dangerous crossing in freezing temperatures through one of the world’s busiest shipping corridors to England, some 30 km (20 miles) across the Channel.
But there was no stopping the group of more than 40, including six children, who cast off from the beach near Wimereux in northern France at daybreak on Wednesday.
About fifteen men carried the grey dinghy, walking towards the sea. Families trailed after with their children, and behind them men lugged an outboard motor.
One man walked holding a young boy by the hand. Two others carried smaller children on their shoulders, while women carried belongings.
Suddenly, a French police truck headed towards the group, flashed its lights and circled the migrants in an apparent attempt to block their path to the sea.
A woman carrying a small child stepped in front of the vehicle and let out a wail. The police vehicle stopped. Soon after, it raced away to patrol another part of the beach.
With the police gone, the migrants scrambled over the sand to the shore, loaded the children onto the dinghy and pushed it out to sea. As a woman waded out in the freezing water, she confirmed where they were headed: “Go UK,” she shouted back to Reuters, before swinging a garbage bag containing belongings onto her head to keep it dry.
Waist-high in the surf, more people pulled themselves onto the dinghy, helped by those already on board. At last, the tiny boat was packed. Some of the migrants waved as they left the shoreline.
(Additional reporting by Gonzalo Fuentes; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Peter Graff)