French coastguard rescues 91 migrants amid surge in Channel crossings

Two minors were among the group which reportedly included people from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran

The French authorities have rescued 91 migrants who got into difficulty while trying to make their way to Britain in small boats, amid a surge in the number of crossings.

Two lifeboats, a coastguard cruiser and a tug boat came to the aid of the migrants who were in four vessels, maritime officials said on Wednesday. Two minors were among the group, which reportedly included people from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

They were pictured being escorted off a rescue craft in Calais after their inflatable boat had begun to take on water as they tried to cross the English Channel to the UK.

The series of operations took place off the coast of Boulogne and Dunkirk in northern France. Both ports are known spots for people smugglers to send boats illegally into the busy shipping route.

After being brought back to land, all those taken from the dinghies were handed over to police.

The migrants’ failed attempt at making the perilous sea journey comes amid a surge in Channel crossings owing to the mild weather.

A weekly record was broken last week as 1,959 migrants landed on British shores in the seven days to September 10, the PA news agency reported.

More migrants were expected to try crossing from France on Thursday as mild weather is forecast, before conditions deteriorate.

On Thursday morning, five or six people reached Dover after being picked up by the UK's Border Force. They told reporters they came from Syria and Sudan.

They were seen disembarking a vessel before making their way along a jetty towards a processing centre at the port.

Hours later UK Home Secretary Priti Patel visited Dover to meet Border Force teams dealing with the continuing arrival of small boats.

She was seen wearing a life jacket on board a Border Force vessel, chatting to staff.

Last night, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Cabinet reshuffle, she reiterated her aim to tackle the problem of illegal immigration.

Ms Patel wrote: “A huge privilege to continue serving as Home Secretary under our Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“There is still so much more to do to deliver for the British people. Tackling illegal migration, cutting crime and continuing to keep our great country safe.”

This morning, Sky News said it had seen a French vessel accompanying a migrant boat into British waters where it was met by Britain’s Border Force.

A reporter in the port of Calais said they had seen a heavy police presence on beaches this morning, including police helicopters, police vessels at sea and foot patrols.

Much of this surveillance is funded by the British government.

Several young children were among a group of migrants that arrived in Dungeness, Kent, on Monday.

Immigration officers were seen tending to a woman who had been taken ill on the crossing.

They carried her away from a boat on a stretcher while the rest of the people were helped ashore by members of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Border Force agents were this week filmed practising “pushback drills” in the Channel, a tactic denounced by France.

Officials on jet skis chased a boat at high speed before surrounding it in a bid to turn it around.

Last week it was revealed that the Home Office had instructed the Border Force to test the method in a bid to stem the flow of small boats from France.

The French government warned it would not co-operate with the proposed policy.

A representative for the Home Office told The National that “a range of safe and legal options for stopping small boats” was being examined.

Former Conservative Party MP and attorney general Dominic Grieve was critical of Ms Patel’s approach.

Speaking to Sky News on Thursday, he dismissed the plan to turn boats back into French waters as “a gimmick”.

“All this business about turning boats back in the Channel, which appears to be a policy that she has espoused and is very pleased to promote, is complete nonsense,” he said.

“It’s a gimmick and the trouble with gimmicks is that if you pursue them they diminish your status with key partners with whom you’re going to have to work if you’re going to prevent illegal immigration, which in this case happens to be the French.”

Since 2018, 11 people are known to have died attempting the crossing and another three people are missing, say officials.

Updated: September 16th 2021, 3:34 PM