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France rescues more than 340 UK-bound migrants in English Channel

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By Euronews  with AFP
French gendarme patrols the beach in Ambleteuse near Calais, northern France.
French gendarme patrols the beach in Ambleteuse near Calais, northern France.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Michel Spingler, FILE   -   Michel Spingler

More than 340 migrants were rescued in the English Channel over the weekend, according to French authorities.

A number of makeshift boats and dinghies attempted the crossing to the United Kingdom in recent days.

Two of the migrants rescued were in a state of advanced hypothermia and another was injured, the French maritime prefecture said.

The UK Home Office said 1,115 migrants were rescued or intercepted crossing the channel in small boats on Friday and Saturday.

Illegal crossings between France and the UK have increased dramatically since 2018, despite repeated warnings from authorities.

Both countries have expressed concern about small boats attempting to cross the busy shipping lane, amid strong currents and low water temperatures.

According to France's maritime prefecture, "numerous boats" were reported to be in difficulty while attempting to cross the Channel on Saturday night.

Rescuers were able to pick up "124 shipwrecked people," while a French Navy vessel also recovered another 95 people.

Maritime authorities in Calais, Dunkirk and Boulogne-sur-Mer recovered 121 people in six separate operations, the prefecture added. Another three people were also rescued by helicopter.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, 76 people trying to reach England had been rescued and a further 95 on Friday.

According to France's maritime prefect Philippe Dutrieux, around 15,400 migrants attempted the crossing between 1 January and 31 August this year.

This represents a dramatic increase from 9,500 people in the hole of 2020 and 2,300 in 2019.

Dutrieux has estimated that 3,500 people have been "recovered in difficulty" and brought back to the French coast since the start of the year.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin also said on Saturday that the percentage of illegal boats stopped has increased from 50% to 65%.

The mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, has called on President Emmanuel Macron to take a tougher stance against Britain in solving the refugee problem.

In July, the two countries signed a €62.7 million deal to increase French patrols to stem the number of migrant crossings.

But UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has recently threatened to withhold the funding unless more people were stopped from reaching the British coast.