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Is Brexit driving the surge in migrants crossing the English Channel by boat?

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Is Brexit driving the surge in migrants crossing the English Channel by boat?
Photo: AFP
15:56 CET+01:00
French authorities have warned of a surge in the number of migrants attempting the dangerous crossing of the English Channel by boat to reach Britain, which they have suggested could reflect fears among migrants that the border will be shut after Brexit.

French and British maritime authorities intercepted 18 migrants trying to cross the Channel on Tuesday, the latest in a string of attempts to reach England by boat.

French gendarmes picked up nine migrants on board a small fishing boat that was detected by a British ferry around 5 am five miles off Dunkirk and about 50 minutes later rescuers from Britain's RNLI lifeboat charity rescued a second boat drifting around 13 kilometres from the British port of Dover.
 
There has been a sharp rise in the number of migrants attempting to cross the Channel from France since October, despite dangers posed by heavy traffic, strong currents and plunging temperatures.
 
In addition to Tuesday's rescues, eighteen migrants were rescued at sea overnight Wednesday to Thursday, eight more Friday morning, and five on Saturday. 
 
France warns of surge in migrant attempts to reach Britain by boat
Photo: AFP
 
In 2018 a total of around 61 migrants have been rescued as they were making the dangerous journey -- 48 since October -- compared to just 13 for the whole of 2017.
 
And while there are currently no concrete explanations for this spike in crossings, it has been suggested that Brexit could be playing a role in "accelerating" migrants' plans to reach the UK.
 
"We think they want to leave at all costs now because Brexit hasn't yet happened," Captain Ingrid Parrot, a spokeswoman for the French maritime police based in Cherbourg told AFP. 
 
According to the maritime police this could be because of fears that after Britain leave the EU there will be tighter controls on immigration. 
 
"There is no definite theory but it seems like Brexit could be accelerating their [ the migrants'] activities," lieutenant Claire Traverse, deputy spokesperson for the French maritime police based in Cherbourg told The Local, adding that the relatively mild autumn could also be behind the surge.
 
"Migrants might believe that it is a good time to make the crossing because the weather has not been too rough," she said. "But it is still dangerous especially because of the maritime traffic." 
 
 
But this isn't the first time authorities have noticed a surge in attempted crossings by boat.
 
Back in 2016, officials began seeing attempts by migrants to use dinghies and inflatable rafts to cross the 33-kilometre (20-mile) Strait of Dover, one of the world's busiest shipping channels as security has been progressively stepped up around the ports, making stowing away on trucks increasingly difficult.
 
Traverse highlighted the fact that the crossings are still life threatening even in temperatures of 13C to 14C and the heavy maritime traffic which makes the crossing very dangerous.
 
Luckily so far no migrant drownings have been reported since 2016. 
 
"We're working with other groups, including police on the ground to achieve two things," said Traverse. "The first is to save those in distress and the second is to secure the maritime routes."
 
Britain's interior ministry said Thursday that 14 people had been rescued overnight, bringing the total number to 78 in the last two weeks.
 
"We have stepped up deployments of our coastal patrol vessels along the South-East coast in light of recent events," the ministry said.
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