channel: Perilous migrant route to Britain

The migrant disaster in the Channel, in which at least 31 people drowned, underlines the dangers of trying to reach England from France on small boats.

New wave of crossings

The number of attempts by migrants to cross the Channel in small boats has rocketed since late 2018.

Migrant camps began to pop up near northern French ports more than two decades ago, with new ones springing up as soon as police cleared them.

With security extremely tight at the port of Calais and the Channel Tunnel, and England a tantalising 34 kilometres (21 miles) away, migrants who might have hidden in the trailers of lorries or the boots of cars in the past have had to try other methods.

Undeterred by worsening weather, the number of crossings has doubled over the past three months.

Spiralling numbers
According to the French authorities, 31,500 people attempted to leave for Britain since the start of the year with 7,800 of those rescued at sea.

The rate of rescues has doubled since August.

At least 25,700 have succeeded in making the journey in first 11 months of the year, Britain says, three times last year’s number.

In 2020 only 9,500 people attempted the crossing, against 2,300 in 2019 and 600 in 2018.

The issue has been a thorn in the side of relations between Britain and France, already soured by Brexit.

On Wednesday British Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused Paris of not doing enough to stop the crossings despite London paying 60 million euros towards the cost of policing the French coast.

Overloaded boats
The crossings take place more often than not in overloaded rickety boats. Wednesday’s tragedy happened on an inflatable of the type used increasingly by traffickers since June.

Francois Guennoc, who runs a migrants shelter in Calais, says that the crossing costs around 2,000 euros per passenger, with prices dropping as traffickers get more organised.

The Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and the small boats have to navigate between merchant ships, fishing boats, yachts and ferries.

Weather conditions are often difficult, especially in winter, with boats having to weave in between 600 ships a day through banks of fog as well as storms.

Organised crime

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin says France has arrested 1,500 traffickers since the start of the year.

He said they work like mafia organisations in highly organised crime groups using encrypted telephones.

On Monday French police said they had smashed an international network of traffickers sending around 250 people per month to Britain from a camp near Dunkirk, from where the craft that sank in the Channel Wednesday left.

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