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French firm ends kayak sales to foil migrants

by The Washington Post | November 18, 2021 at 4:14 a.m.

A sporting goods company has stopped selling kayaks in its shops in northern France as record numbers of migrants attempt the perilous journey across the Channel into Britain.

French retailer Decathlon said the vessels “could be used to cross the Channel” and that its branches there would still sell safety equipment such as life jackets.

The move came after three people were reported missing last week and two others were rescued from the water, as a pair of kayaks washed up near Calais.

The crossing of migrants — many of them Yemenis, Iraqis, Afghans and others seeking refuge — has turned into a point of contention in the post-Brexit tussle between Paris and London. Tensions between the two have also simmered in a dispute over access to fishing waters.

Nearly three times as many migrants and asylum seekers have crossed by sea this year compared with last year, and a number have died. Some migrants want to reach Britain to reunite with family, aid workers say, and others because they speak English.

At the Strait of Dover, the Channel, one of the world’s busiest commercial shipping lanes, is some 21 miles wide and can be dangerous for people in small, flimsy boats, particularly when hammered by high winds.

Decathlon cited those risks in its decision. It told AFP news agency it halted kayak sales in some stores in France’s northern tip, including Calais.

The city remains a congregation point for desperate migrants years after France dismantled the camp there that had symbolized the refugee crisis in Europe.

The vessels, which cost more than $200, remain on sale online and in other Decathlon shops, which exist in dozens of countries.

The company did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment. It told a regional French in newspaper earlier that the latest rise in crossings pushed Calais staff to question kayak sales, because “people’s lives could be endangered.”

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