Fishermen watch French and UK coastguards pick up migrants in English Channel

France insists it is taking action to block people smugglers

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A British fisherman who works in the English Channel has claimed French authorities are “escorting” boats of migrants towards the UK.

This is despite France agreeing to prevent illegal crossings under a deal with the UK.

The skipper’s claim came as dozens of migrants, including babies, landed on south-east England's shores on Tuesday, hours after leaving French beaches in small boats.

After the number of new arrivals reportedly hit 1,000 on Monday, Home Secretary Priti Patel threatened to withdraw a £54 million ($74.3m) in funding promised to the French to halt crossings.

Fisherman Matt Coker said French patrol boats appeared to be aiding migrants in making illegal crossings rather than stopping them.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Mr Coker said he believed Wednesday would be another busy day on the shipping route for migrant boats.

Chatter on his boat’s radio already sounded “quite busy” with reports of possible crossings, he said.

The fisherman said he often sees French patrol boats “escorting [migrant boats] across from France into UK waters” where they are intercepted by the UK’s Border Force and brought ashore.

“I’m not sure … the French are stopping them, as they seem to be sort of bringing them across,” he said.

It is clear that people smugglers have become more sophisticated in their lucrative businesses, Mr Coker said.

“It’s changed really compared to what it used to be three or four years ago when it all started.

“They used to come across in small two-metre to four-metre inflatables with maybe 10 or a dozen people on board,” Mr Coker said, “whereas now they’re using large inflatables which carry 40, 50 sometimes 60 people.”

A 17-year-old Eritrean boy was among the dozens of migrants to arrive on Dungeness beach in Kent on Tuesday, on board a Royal National Lifeboat Institution rescue vessel.

The teenager said he felt very happy to have reached his destination.

Thousands of economic migrants from the east African country have in recent years crossed the Mediterranean illegally to seek a new life in Europe.

Other new arrivals were seen kneeling in apparent prayer on Dungeness beach as they arrived on British soil. One woman told a reporter she was from Iran.

Two babies were among the migrants ferried ashore by RNLI vessels, after the boats in which they were travelling were intercepted at sea.

Ms Patel on Tuesday threatened to withhold a funding package pledged to French authorities for their assistance in preventing migrant crossings.

She is expected to discuss the issue with French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin in London on Wednesday at a meeting of G7 ministers.

Ms Patel and Mr Darmanin this year announced an agreement to more than double the number of police patrolling French beaches.

As part of the deal, ministers pledged to give France £54m to support its efforts. It is understood that none of the money has yet been paid.

France has banned the sale of inflatable dinghies and kayaks in Channel towns in a bid to deter people traffickers but smugglers are reported to be ordering these online instead.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid, a former home secretary, stressed the need for the government to work with the French authorities.

“When I was home secretary I was working with the French on the same issue and my experience is that it’s really good to co-operate,” he told Sky News on Wednesday.

“This is a joint problem between the French and the British and I think it makes absolute sense to work together to share intelligence to see what you can do.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman said UK and French officials were “working on the implementation” of the deal and that “significant”

“Following a long period of poor weather, we have seen an increase in crossings as criminal gangs seek to exploit the improved sea conditions," he said.

“This is still extremely dangerous. We remain determined to fix the broken asylum system and break the business model of people smugglers who put lives at risk, and welcome people through safe and legal routes.”

At least 12,500 people have crossed the Channel to the UK in 2021, PA news agency data showed.

Updated: November 22, 2021, 8:31 AM