English Channel
English Channel

French maritime authorities say they have rescued 22 migrants over the weekend who were trying to cross the English Channel, a relatively narrow strait between France and the UK with strong currents. The number of attempted crossings has spiked recently. Meanwhile, UK’s Prime Minister Johnson said Britain will send back migrants who cross the Channel illegally.

French rescuers saved 22 migrants who found themselves "in difficulty" overnight trying to cross the English Channel from France to Britain, French maritime authorities said Sunday.

"A semi-rigid vessel with 22 migrants," including a woman and a child, was found to be "in difficulty" off the coast of Dunkirk, a statement said.

Within an hour, the migrants had been brought to shore and were taken to the French city of Dunkirk. They were then handed over to the emergency services and border police, authorities added.

Earlier this month, the first migrant trying to cross the Channel disappeared: An Iranian woman reportedly fell into the water during her attempt to reach southern England from northern France.

Crossing the Channel, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, is dangerous given its dense maritime traffic, strong currents and constant wind. At its narrowest point - the Strait of Dover - the waterway is 33 kilometers (21 miles) wide and between 120 meters (390 feet) and 45 meters (148 feet) deep.

Yet migrants are taking ever greater risks to reach Britain from France, which has taken an uncompromising approach towards so-called economic migrants. Unlike refugees, who are fleeing war or persecution, ‘economic migrants’ come to Europe in search of a better life.

Crossings on the rise

In recent days, scores of migrants trying to make the crossing from France to England in rubber dinghies have been rescued in the busy shipping channel.

On Thursday, 30 migrants, including 10 children and a baby, were brought to shore by French rescuers. That night, a further 24 people, seven of them minors, were rescued. On the British side, 37 migrants, including six children, were intercepted near England's south coast, also on Thursday.

Many of the migrants are Iranian, but the authorities also regularly intercept African nationals as well as people from South Asia and the Gulf countries, including Iran and Iraq. France has attributed the development to good summer weather, saying it has emboldened more migrants to put out to sea.

Several British politicians, including conservative member of Parliament Charlie Elphicke, have commented on the surge in crossings.

The UK Home Office interior ministry, which blames criminal gangs for facilitating the crossings, currently has three small boats of its border force in the Channel. Moreover, it has a joint action plan with France in place that included a coordination center in Calais.

According to the Home Office, the UK has returned to Europe more than 65 people who arrived illegally in small boats since January. Last year, some 539 people attempted to cross the strait on small boats.

UK’s PM Johnson: ‘We will send you back’

Last Friday, UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned those thinking of crossing the Channel illegally that they will be sent back to France. "The UK should not be regarded as a place where you can automatically come and break the law by seeking to arrive illegally," Johnson said.

The prime minister’s comments came as the UK's home secretary, Priti Patel, prepared to hold talks with her French counterpart about the crossings.

Although crossings of the Channel from France to England are on the rise, Britain has fared better than fellow EU nations Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea.

This year alone, more than 45,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean (as of August 21) and at least 859 others have died trying (as of August 26), according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

With material from AFP, Reuters


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