Migrants turn to flimsy boats to cross Channel

2016-06-19 17:43
(Michel Spingler, AP)

(Michel Spingler, AP)

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Lille - Thwarted at every turn in their efforts to reach Britain, migrants in northern France have once again changed tack...turning to flimsy dinghies to carry them across the Channel.

Migrants in Calais have sneaked into trucks or trains and even tried to walk through the undersea tunnel in increasingly risky and sometimes deadly attempts to reach Britain.

However tighter security has stymied these efforts and authorities have reported about a dozen operations to rescue migrants drifting in inflatable dinghies in the Channel since the start of the year. There were none in 2015.

Migrants drowning

The most recent rescue took place on June 11, when three Iranian migrants were saved from their sinking vessel. Three other migrants were rescued in similar circumstances a few days earlier.

Pierre-Joachim Antona, spokesperson for the local French maritime authority, said efforts to cross the Channel by boat were "no longer extraordinary or isolated".

There have been rare cases in recent years of migrants drowning while trying to swim across the narrow sea and an Afghan once built a raft with a bedsheet in a failed effort to drift to England.

But the phenomenon is now a "real and lasting trend", said Antona.

Hundreds of thousands of economic migrants and refugees have crossed from Turkey to Greece in overloaded boats since and hundreds have died in the process.

While France's migrant crisis is tiny compared to that faced by Greece or Germany, the slum-like Calais camp of about 4 000 migrants desperate to reach Britain is a political hot potato on both sides of the Channel.

Many of the migrants have relatives in Britain, or believe they will have a better chance of finding employment there.

Curb the trend

The migrants' main tactic has been sneaking onto the back of trucks, initially when drivers stopped to rest and later by blocking roads and forcing their way onto the vehicles.

The crisis reached a peak in July and August last year when hundreds tried to storm the Eurotunnel site on several consecutive nights to try cross the Channel.

Security was stepped up in response to the disturbances,but recent efforts to block traffic flared again last month.

At least 26 people have been killed attempting to reach Britain since June 2015.

Both France and Britain have stepped up patrols and efforts on land to curb the trend.

Patricio Martin, director of the border police in northern France, said a surveillance system had been set up along the coastline to "intercept smuggling networks even before the migrants take to the sea".

A police source said that smugglers were demanding "up to €10 000" for the crossing.

Read more on:    uk  |  france  |  migrants

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