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France and UK to take 'urgent action' on English Channel migrants

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Three migrants who were attempting to cross The English Channel from France to Britain are seen as they drift in an inflatable canoe off the French coast at Calais on August 4
Three migrants who were attempting to cross The English Channel from France to Britain are seen as they drift in an inflatable canoe off the French coast at Calais on August 4 -
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British Home Secretary Priti Patel has promised more joint action between the UK and France to prevent migrants crossing the English Channel.

Patel met her French counterpart Christophe Castaner in Paris on Thursday, soon after dozens of migrants were intercepted on five boats off the British coast, and one boat made a landing on a beach in Sussex.

Over 900 migrants have successfully made the crossing between the UK and France in 2019, with the Home Office returning at least 65 people.

Meanwhile, legal proceedings brought against a number of smugglers. In July and June, two men were jailed for assisting unlawful immigration to the UK, one in Britain and the other in France. In May, a French national was jailed for selling 39 boats to migrants.

Read More: A flipper and a plastic bottle float: the story of one Iraqi man's deadly asylum bid

In January, the UK and France agreed a joint action plan which included £6 million in new security equipment including CCTV coverage of beaches and ports. The two countries also agreed to return migrants that make the crossing.

“We’ve been working extremely closely with our French colleagues to tackle the use of small boats but we both agreed more needs to be done,” Patel said.

“It’s vital we ensure our collective expertise is used to stop the boats from leaving French shores and dismantle the criminal networks driving this activity.”

But Catherine Woollard, secretary general of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, told Euronews that the numbers of migrants crossing the Channel remained “very small”.

“An alarmist approach on the part of UK politicians and media is likely to contribute to the growing xenophobia in the country, as well as generating the risk of disproportionate action,” she said.

At its narrowest, the stretch of water between the UK and France is just 33 kilometres. But poor weather conditions and a huge amount of commercial shipping makes the English Channel a dangerous crossing even for experienced navigators.

Many of the boats being used by migrants and smuggling gangs are small inflatable dinghies, which are often overcrowded to maximise profits for smugglers.

On August 23, the body of an Iraqi national - Niknam Masoud - was found off the Belgian coast after it is believed he attempted to swim to the UK from France.