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Sports retailer stops kayak sales in north France as migrant crossings to Britain rise

A dingy carries migrants on the English Channel in May 2020. (Steve Finn/Getty Images)

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.

The small boats “could be used to cross the Channel," said French retailer Decathlon, whose branches 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 the French port city of Calais. Also last week, 1,185 people ventured across the English Channel in a new daily record that the U.K. Home Office described as “unacceptable.”

The influx 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.

Ahead of its exit from the European Union last year, Britain deployed military drones to surveil people in dinghies trying to enter. On the other side, French police have cleared makeshift camps where hundreds of migrants had lived on the northern coast, while aid workers urge authorities to find housing alternatives.

After it became a symbol of Europe’s failures, migrants are still stranded in Calais

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

At the Strait of Dover, the English 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 when hammered by high winds.

Decathlon cited those risks on Wednesday in the decision to halt kayak sales in France’s northern tip, including in Calais. The city remains a congregation point for desperate migrants years after France dismantled the squalid “Jungle” camp there that had become one symbol of Europe’s refugee crisis.

The inflatable vessels, which cost more than $200, remain for sale online and in other Decathlon shops, which exist in dozens of countries. The company said the latest rise in crossings pushed its Calais staff to question selling the boats “which could endanger the lives of people.”

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