IN a squalid migrant camp on the French coast, Afghan Khiyal Gul had been waiting eagerly for a flimsy dinghy to take him to the UK.
The builder, 41, had told me on Thursday: “I will try to reach the UK when the weather improves, hopefully in two or three days.”
But yesterday, as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled a multi-million pound package in Paris to stop the boats, Khiyal abandoned his plans.
Speaking on a train to the French capital, the forlorn builder revealed: “My British lawyer said now is not a good time to come because of the new laws in the UK.
“I will stay in Paris until I decide what to do.”
Earlier this week Mr Sunak had announced new legislation intended to make asylum claims inadmissible for almost all those who arrive on small boats.
Under the plans, migrants will be detained in former military bases before being removed from Britain.
The Illegal Migration Bill is sure to face stiff challenges from human rights lawyers and refugee charities.
Despite the tough rhetoric from UK politicians, many others in the sprawling “New Jungle” migrant camp at Loon-Plage said they would not yet abandon their plans to take a dinghy to the UK.
Some in the boggy scrubland near Dunkirk have fled the ravages of war and repression, but others are economic migrants who say they just want a better life.
One man among the throng is child rapist Emal Kochai.
The Afghan, 28, was deported from Britain in 2019 after serving half of a nine-year prison sentence for raping a 12-year-old girl at a house in Reading, Berks, in 2014.
But he has made his way back to the Channel claiming he has “changed his ways”.
Speaking after the Government’s new legislation was announced this week, he told a reporter from The Times: “I will never give up trying to get to the UK.
“I have been in France for three months and we don’t get anything. In the UK I can get education, a job and a house.”
A haven for people-smugglers, the Loon-Plage camp — a successor to the infamous Calais Jungle — is a final waystation on the migrant trail where deals are brokered for a place on a UK-bound dinghy.
Khiyal gave me a guided tour of the camp before leaving for Paris.
He says many of the gangsters behind the lucrative small boats trade are armed. “Every smuggler has a pistol,” he revealed. “You hear gunshots all the time.”
While we walked, Khiyal told how he spent six years living and working in Stratford, East London, after paying £2,500 to sneak into the UK in the back of a lorry.
He said: “I was turned down for asylum because I don’t have any documentation that shows I worked for Nato [as a translator].
“So in 2020 I went to Italy where I first entered the EU and was fingerprinted to try to claim asylum there.
“It cost me £300 to leave the UK by lorry, it’s much cheaper on the way out. The Italians also turned down my application so I want to try again in the UK.”
After attempting since December to reach the UK, he may be the first person deterred by the Illegal Migration Bill from taking a small boat.
Dressed in a yellow anorak against the driving rain, Khiyal said: “I have tried nine times to cross by boat and twice by lorry but always the police stop me.
“Now I will stay in Paris with a friend and see what happens.”
Others insist they are undeterred by the new measures.
They believe the Government’s failure to kickstart its policy of removing migrants to Rwanda, in central Africa, will see the new plans similarly stifled by legal challenges.
Some 190 miles south of Loon-Plage, Mr Sunak was meeting French President Emmanuel Macron amid the splendour of the Elysee Palace.
They were hammering out a new deal worth almost £500million to take on the people-smugglers.
Britain has given France more than £250million since 2015 in an attempt to secure the border.
But the number of migrants crossing by small boats has continued to rise, with more than 45,000 people making the journey last year.
That figure could rise to more than 80,000 this year.
Mr Sunak hopes more cops on French beaches, closer intelligence-sharing and more investment in drones will mean the French stop more boats.
At the moment the interception rate is 42 per cent.
The Home Office believes that if that figure went up to 75 per cent then the people-smuggling trade would become unviable.
For now the lucrative business, estimated to have been worth £183million last year, is flourishing.
As I walked around the ramshackle camp this week, people were arriving laden with bags to arrange their passage to the UK.
The New Jungle has a barber’s, hot showers provided by charity groups, £2.70 kebabs on sale at a stall offering Red Bull and Coca-Cola, and phone charging points.
Amid the squalor, French “harp therapist” Belinda Welton, 55, plays her instrument for watching migrants. The mum-of-two said: “In two minutes it brings a smile to their faces.”
She describes the Rwanda policy as “inhuman”, adding that the plans announced by Mr Sunak will not deter those who fear for their lives in their homelands.
Dominated by Kurdish gangs, numbers at the camp fluctuate from the low hundreds to as many as 1,500 in the summer months.
‘No jobs at home’
In one section this week were 20 Sikh men from the Punjab province of India, an emerging economic and political powerhouse.
Asked why he was fleeing a safe country, Gurpreet Singh, 27, replied succinctly: “Money.
“India is a rich country but there are no jobs for us there.
“I will go to Birmingham and work in the restaurant, building or hotel industries.”
The Indians had flown to Serbia then travelled across Europe.
Akashdeep Singh, 21, told me: “We heard about the law changing but have spent too much getting here — £10,000 — to turn back now.”
It’s unclear if the men will claim asylum or simply disappear into Britain’s black economy.
If it thwarts the smugglers, extra British taxpayers’ cash to bolster French beach patrols will be seen as money well spent by ministers.
It’s currently costing £5.6million a day to house asylum seekers in hotels across Britain.
Afghan Hedayat Meyer, 17, shows me a scar on his right foot which he says was from a Taliban bullet.
The youngster revealed that the Taliban came looking for his father but shot him, resulting in a three-month stay in hospital.
His parents and two siblings had fled to neighbouring Tajikistan.
When he was released from hospital, Hedayat journeyed across Iran and Turkey to Europe, using cash from the sale of the family farm.
The youngster said: “I’m desperate to join my uncle in Manchester.
“I’m depressed about the law changes in Britain but I have to continue my journey.
“I heard that the French authorities make sure nothing happens to the boats in their waters and then the UK Government will rescue us at sea on their side.”
Former Border Force chief immigration officer Kevin Saunders believes it is possible to effectively police the French coastline.
Mr Saunders, who spent 16 years in the Calais area working alongside local law enforcement, said security measures are not currently working because “the people-smugglers are cleverer than we are”.
He told me: “Rishi should be asking Macron to deploy the Gendarmerie Maritime on to the Channel. That’s the French police’s Naval task force. It’s a very efficient organisation.”
Mr Saunders added: “At the moment migrants will say, ‘We’re going to come anyway because you said a year ago that people would be sent to Rwanda but nothing’s happened’. I don’t think they’re right. I think Rwanda’s going to work when the legal case unravels.”
Meanwhile migrants at Loon-Plage are scanning the weather forecasts on their phones, waiting for the smugglers’ call . . .