Record migrant crossings to UK during coronavirus lockdown

Dozens are intercepted as they try to cross in boats from the French coast

Border Force officers with men thought to be migrants, wearing face masks as they come to shore in Dover, south England, after what has been described as a small boat incident in The Channel early Thursday May 7, 2020.  The highly contagious COVID-19 coronavirus has impacted on nations around the globe, many imposing self isolation and exercising social distancing when people move from their homes. (Gareth Fuller / PA via AP)
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The number of migrants crossing the 26-mile wide waterway between France and the UK has reached record levels over the weekend as dozens of people took to small boats during the calm spring weather.

More than 140 people were estimated to have made the crossing on Friday with dozens more seen at the southern English port of Dover on Saturday.

They were seen wearing masks and being processed by officials with their small inflatable craft moored at the harbour.  A group of 16 people, including five women and a child, were among those stopped early on Saturday by the French authorities and returned to Dunkirk, France.

Ministers have linked the rise in attempts to cross the English Channel by boat with the lockdown that has restricted crossings between the two countries by ferry and rail.

Some 700 people are estimated to have been intercepted since March 23 when the lockdown was enforced in the UK to try to combat coronavirus.

The sharp rise in numbers follows the latest discussions between the British and French governments who have promised to share intelligence on smuggling gangs and increase patrols on the French side, with some funds provided by the UK.

“Only when migrants and traffickers alike know that they will not succeed in breaking into Britain in this way will these dangerous journeys cease,” said Dover MP Natalie Elphicke, a member of the ruling Conservative party.

Successive British interior ministers have promised to strengthen the UK’s borders. Migrants gather at the northern French coast before trying to cross one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes to reach a country where many have family connections.

Migrant charities said it was unsurprising that they would seek to make the crossing owing to poor conditions in French camps.

"It's little wonder people living in France's refugee camps are desperate to make this dangerous crossing, given the awful conditions they face there,” said Clare Moseley, founder of charity Care4Calais.  "Coronavirus has made a bad situation life-threateningly worse.”