A gang of illegal immigrants has been caught trying to FLEE the UK – fearing mistreatment in Britain after Brexit.
Shocked border guards in France found the 33 stowaways on a lorry in Calais that had just
arrived from Dover.
An immigration charity worker said: “This is very rare.”
The runaways told officials they wanted to get out of the UK because they were worried about their rights now that Britain has left the EU.
But last night 31 of the group – 27 men and four women – were back in the UK and being held in immigration centres where they will be questioned over the escape bid.
France returned them under a reciprocal agreement which allows the French to send back illegal immigrants if they are asylum seekers or criminals.
A source said: “They were found in a lorry and told security that they were leaving because they feared how they would be treated post-Brexit.
“They said they were worried their rights would be curtailed when we are no longer in the EU.
“Then they were sent back by French authorities in three lots of 11, escorted by police, and taken to immigration centres.”
Britain’s immigration enforcement unit launched a probe on Monday after the 33 were caught at the French inbound controls in Calais.
The group had sneaked on to a container truck which sailed on a Danish-owned DFDS ferry from Dover.
The lorry had already driven off the ferry but was stopped at a checkpoint in the port.
Guards were stunned to find the group trying to get INTO France – a complete reverse of the usual one-way tide of desperate migrants that has hit the French port for years.
Chris Hobbs, a former special branch officer in border control with the Metropolitan Police, said: “This is highly unusual.
It could be that they think the asylum regime is going to be harsher once we leave the EU.
It could be they found the land of milk and honey wasn’t all they were told it would be.
“Or they could simply be in the hands of traffickers who want them stationed somewhere else and there’s an element of human slavery.”
Lucy Moreton from the charity Immigration Service Union said: “It is very rare for people to be returned from France to the UK.
“Trying to smuggle yourself out of Britain because of Brexit seems like an odd thing to do, but I wouldn’t rule it out.
“Who knows what goes through people’s minds when they make this decision?”
Sources say 31 were returned to the UK because their status fell within the boundaries of the UK’s reciprocal agreement with France.
Under this agreement France is entitled to return asylum seekers if they are facing criminal charges in the UK or had already applied for asylum here.
The Calais authorities told the Sunday People that there had been a surge in the number of migrants trying to get from France to the UK because of Brexit.
But they were not aware of similar traffic the other way.
A French Border Police source said: “It is not unheard of for migrants to travel from Britain to France, but these are normally isolated individual cases.
The British do everything possible to defend their borders and so do we.
“We have always worked in partnership and this is continuing after Brexit.”
A spokeswoman for ferry company DFDS said: “On Monday 33 people were discovered in a vehicle that had travelled on board one of our vessels, the Cotes des Dunes.
“The 33 illegal immigrants were discovered by French customs after a control at the exit of the port of Calais, not onboard the vessel.
“They were returned to the UK in accordance with an existing agreement between PAF (Police Aux Frontiers) and UK Border Force.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “We have a long-standing agreement which allows for the return of illegal migrants who are refused entry by either France or the UK at a Channel port within 24 hours.
“More than 100 people who arrived illegally in the UK have been returned to France in the last three years under this arrangement.”
But Brexit has not stopped many illegal immigrants from continuing to try and enter the UK
in boats across the Channel.
A record 90 people were picked up by UK Border Force agents as they tried to cross the Channel to Britain in small boats on Thursday.