Around 400 UK-bound paperless migrants remain in the French border town, according to authorities, despite the local government’s controversial “zero tolerance” migration policy.
A search and rescue operation to find the migrant was unsuccessful, a member of the rescue team told the AFP news agency later in the day, adding that the man – whose identity has yet to be confirmed – had most probably fallen to his death at the port of Calais, the main gateway into the UK.
The rescue source said: “The search proved fruitless and was interrupted late [Sunday] morning. It was not resumed later in the day.
“Three men were on a beach in Calais – near the port we believe. At around 3.35am two migrants told the port’s security services that the third member of their group had fallen into the water,” the prefecture spokesperson said.
“Fire fighters and a dive team were immediately sent to look for the migrant and a helicopter was deployed at around 6am to help with the search, to no avail.”
Calais officials did not say how the three men had planned to enter the UK, whether they were going to try and jump onto a lorry bound for the UK without being spotted, or sail across the Channel on an inflatable boat.
According to the latest count carried out by the local authorities, between 350 and 420 illegal immigrants remain in Calais. Estimates from charities, however, put the town’s migrant population at between 400 and 800.
Calais’ hardline mayor Natacha Bouchart has gone to great lengths to deter migrants from congregating in and around Calais since the demolition of the infamous ‘Jungle’ tent camp – which housed some 7,000 migrants – in October 2016.
In an effort to prevent a new migrant camp from being set up, police in Calais adopted a controversial “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, banning charities from opening emergency shelters for migrants sleeping rough and stopping all food handouts.
But Mrs Bouchart was forced to backtrack on some of the toughest measures after a local court ruled that authorities in Calais had to provide migrants with food, access to drinking water, toilets and facilities for showering and washing clothes.
French President Emmanuel Macron, for his part, has hardened his stance on immigration since winning power, approving earlier this year a new bill designed to tighten the country’s asylum rules.
The bill, which officially passed on August 1, doubles to 90 days the time in which illegal immigrants can be detained, shortens deadlines to apply for asylum and makes the illegal crossing of borders an offence punishable by one year in jail and fines.
Mr Macron’s centrist government has said it wants to be both firm and fair on immigration, which has been a major political issue since scores of migrants and refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa started moving to Europe.