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English Channel sees uptick in migrants trying to cross over to Britain

  • Marine Nationale via AP

    Migrants aboard a rubber boat after being intercepted by French authorities, off the port of Calais, northern France. French authorities have rescued eight migrants, including two children, whose engine failed as they tried to sneak across the English Channel to Britain.

PARIS >> British and French authorities said some 40 migrants were rescued in the waters between southern England and northern France on Christmas Day, amid a spike in attempts by migrants to cross the English Channel to British shores on small boats.

The French regional maritime authority, or prefecture, said in a statement that a small rubber boat with a failed engine was spotted Tuesday off the coast of Calais. A police helicopter monitoring the area directed a tugboat to the stranded migrants, the prefecture said.

The maritime authority said eight migrants, including two children, were found aboard the boat and handed over to British authorities. It didn’t provide the passengers’ nationalities.

Calais, a port city on one end of a Channel tunnel that connects France and England by train, long has been a magnet for migrants fleeing conflict or poverty in Africa and the Mideast. French officials two years ago closed a makeshift camp that swelled to a population of 10,000 at one point as people waited to try to hop trucks taking rail ferries or trains to England.

The Channel has seen a recent spike in migrants attempting the trip from France to England in dinghies or other small boats.

Britain’s Home Office, which oversees immigration, said border agents responded to five separate boating incidents in English waters starting early Christmas Day involving about 40 passengers who said they were from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

The Home Office told Britain’s Press Association that all received medical evaluations and were sent on for immigration interviews. Social welfare agencies would assume care of the two children among the passengers, the news agency reported.

The Home Office put the number of England-bound migrants the French tugboat took on at nine, not eight. The French maritime authority said the initial sighting of the boat estimated nine were aboard, but the tugboat crew that reached them found only eight.

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