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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

France rescues 33 migrants heading for England

French border police escorts a dinghy attempting to reach England in the Channel [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 August, 2020

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French maritime patrol say it acted "on several reports of small boats of migrants in difficulty in the straights" off Calais
French patrol boats on Saturday rescued dozens of migrants from makeshift boats in the Channel that were heading to England, maritime officials said.

British interior minister Priti Patel on Friday described the volume of migrants crossing the Channel as "appalling and unacceptably high" and called on France to help keep numbers down.

France's regional maritime monitoring and rescue operation said it acted "on several reports of small boats of migrants in difficulty in the straights off Calais."

A French patrol boat saved 17 migrants around 8 am aboard two separate vessels northeast of France's port city of Calais, said the operation said in a statement.   

About an hour later another boat rescued 16 migrants from another vessel in trouble off Sangatte, which used to host a makeshift camp for migrants heading to England.

Border police serving the Calais region are looking after the 33 migrants, whose nationalities were not immediately disclosed, the statement said. 

Since 1 January, the French authorities have intercepted at least 810 migrants who were trying to cross the Channel to England, according to official figures tabulated by AFP.

Patel's warning to France came as London has come under increasing pressure from critics to tackle the migrant crossings.

During the 2016 referendum in which Britain voted to leave the European Union, Brexit supporters argued for the UK to "take back control" of its borders over fears too many migrants were arriving. 

Last month the interior ministers of France and Britain signed an agreement to create a new joint police intelligence unit to combat migrant traffickers and reduce the number of illegal Channel crossings.

British media reports claim more than 3,400 people have made the crossing so far this year.

In 2019, 2,758 migrants were rescued by the French and British authorities while trying to make the crossing - four times more than in 2018, according to French officials.

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Sea crossings have surged during the coronavirus lockdown as the number of trucks travelling through the Channel Tunnel dropped dramatically.

Deteriorating conditions in northern France's makeshift camps may also be forcing asylum seekers across the channel, as local charities have been forced to stop or scale back their operations in the area due to the pandemic.

Heavy maritime traffic, strong currents and low water temperatures make sea crossings especially dangerous.

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