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France

Forty migrants cross English Channel on Christmas Day

media Migrants leave Calais in a dinghy for the UK in August, 2018. STR / AFP

Forty migrants have been picked up in five separate incidents on Christmas Day, in what the UK Border Force describes as “organised crime”.

In the early hours of Christmas Day morning five small boats debarked from northern France in separate attempts to cross the English Channel.

The largest number were traveling in a dinghy. Thirteen migrants were on board including one minor. They got within a few miles of the English coastal town of Deal when the UK Coastguard was alerted by police and a helicopter and Coastguard rescue vessel was dispatched.

Of those on board 11 are thought to be Iraqi, and two are Iranians. The minor is now in the care of UK social services. The adults are being interrogated by the UK Border Force.

Earlier in the morning eight migrants made landfall at Folkestone in the southern English county of Kent. Within minutes the police were called and the migrants were taken into custody. Seven of them are Iraqi men, and one is a female minor from Afghanistan, according to an emailed statement sent to RFI by the UK Border Force.

Staff at the Maritime Operation Centre in Cherbourg, northern France, contacted the UK Border Force at 05:50 Universal Time and alerted them that a small dinghy with eight people on board was in distress. All eight were rescued, and are currently being interviewed by UK immigration officials.

Two more migrants traveling in a small boat are also en route to southern England according to the UK Border Force, but their fate is not yet known.

British-French cooperation

In another incident, nine migrants were picked up by the UK Border Force after the vessel they were traveling in was hit by engine failure. A French rescue vessel towed the boat back to France. The migrants are being assessed at a Coastguard tent in the UK.

The migrants who crossed the English Channel overnight are all believed to have obtained the vessels they traveled in from France.

There are thousands of migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East living in camps in and around the northern city of Calais. Increasing numbers of them are risking their lives by attempting to cross the English Channel in small boats and dinghies.

“The evidence shows there is organised criminal gang activity behind illegal migration attempts by small boats across the Channel,” Hannah Schraer, a Home Office spokesperson told RFI in an emailed statement. “We are working closely with the French and law enforcement partners to target these gangs, who exploit vulnerable people and put lives at risk.”

Vulnerable to smugglers

Over 40,000 Iranians arrived in the Serbian capital Belgrade between October 2017 and October this year when the two countries had a visa-free regime. Only 10 percent applied for asylum according to the UNHCR.The majority are believed to left Serbia for European Union countries including Britain and France.

There are between 400 and 450 unaccompanied minors in Serbia currently. The majority are from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. And like many refugees most unaccompanied minors would like to leave Serbia for EU countries.

"They are particularly vulnerable to people smugglers,' the UNHCR's Mirjana Milenkovski told RFI.

Brexit deadline

Hundreds of migrants have been rescued while trying to cross the English Channel in dinghies and stolen fishing vessels in the past six weeks. Most of them are believed to be from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

They are being told by people smugglers to make the crossing before the Brexit deadline on the 29th March, 2019. Many pay thousands of euros to smugglers to make the perilous journey.

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