Decathlon stops kayak sales in Calais and Dunkirk after migrants use them in bid to reach UK

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A picture taken on February 27, 2019, shows the logo at a store of French sports goods retailer Decathlon in Montpellier, southern France.

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The French sports retail chain Decathlon is withdrawing kayaks from sale in its stores in Calais and Dunkirk on the north coast, over fears that they could be used by migrants trying to cross the English Channel.

“The purchase of these kayaks will no longer be possible” in the two stores, “in reaction to the current situation”, the company told AFP, confirming a report in the regional newspaper La Voix du Nord.

A spokesperson explained that the articles are “diverted from their sporting use” and “can serve as small boats to cross the English Channel”, adding that the products are not designed for such a journey.

Deploying the kayaks in such a way “could endanger the lives of people using them”, the spokesperson said, indicating that the decision to withdraw them from sale was taken by the shops and approved by the company.

Decathlon says kayaks are still on sale online and in the company’s other outlets, pointing out that “products which allow safety at sea to be improved such as lifejackets, oars or thermal protection will still be available” at the Calais and Dunkirk stores.

Last Friday, three migrants were reported missing after trying to cross the Channel on kayaks to reach England. The previous day, 1,185 migrants made the crossing according to British figures, a record number in one day.

Two kayaks were found adrift off the coast of Calais on Thursday, and two people who had been shipwrecked were rescued by the gendarmerie.

A large makeshift camp accommodating hundreds of migrants in the Dunkirk area was evacuated on Tuesday. The Prefecture in the Nord department said 663 people were relocated away from the coast or to other French regions, and there were 35 arrests.

It came as London and Paris renewed dialogue on stopping illicit Channel crossings, following several days of tension.

After a meeting on Monday, French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and his British counterpart Priti Patel agreed to strengthen cooperation further.

“More must be done to stop the dangerous crossings,” they said in a statement, reiterating their joint determination to prevent 100% of crossings and make this deadly route unviable.

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