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French Deny Entry of British Aid Convoy to Calais Refugee Camp

Pro-refugee activists rally with placards outside the French Embassy in central London after an aid convoy headed to northern France was turned back at the port of Dover, June 18, 2016.

A British convoy of about 250 vehicles carrying aid donations for people at the Calais refugee camp was stopped Saturday at Dover after French authorities denied it permission to enter the country.

The motorcade, organized by groups including the Stop the War Coalition and the People’s Assembly, gathered near Parliament in the morning, and organizers had hoped to reach northern France by early afternoon local time.

But French officials, who carry out border checks on English territory as part of a bilateral treaty, prevented the vehicles from boarding ferries from the Kent port of Dover to Calais.

Drivers left their cars and went up to the border post to demonstrate against the ban and migrant policies, and to convey a strong message in support of refugees, convoy organizer John Rees said.

Welcoming those in need

"We're here to make a point about the need for aid to go to Calais," he said, "but we're also here to make this point that there has been an enormous amount of, quite frankly, racist campaigning, both in the London mayoral election and in the EU election, and we're here to say that this isn't what most people in this country think."

Most Britons, Rees said, "are generous people, they are warmhearted people, they are welcoming people, and they think that the people who are in most desperate need ought to be welcome here and at least ought to be aided by ordinary people in this country if the government won’t let them in."

French police justified the ban, citing security concerns for the Euro 2016 football championship underway in France and the demands of counterterrorism.

According to an official estimate from April, about 4,000 migrants, mainly from Afghanistan and Sudan, live in the Calais camp. Convoy organizers claimed the number to be closer to 5,000.