BOULOGNE, France: French authorities rescued 61 migrants including small children in the English Channel on Tuesday in one of the largest emergency operations in recent months as calm seas drew a rush of migrants in small boats toward the coast of Britain.
Rescue workers in the port of Boulogne, where the migrants were brought ashore, said about 30 people had to be plucked out of the cold waters as they rushed to climb aboard a French rescue vessel from their rubber dinghy, which had been taking on water.
Officials said the rescue took place about one nautical mile inside British territorial waters.
Afghan, Indian, Iranian and Pakistani nationals were aboard the dinghy, which left the French coast in the small hours of the morning, the refugees said.
At the quayside, the migrants were handed fresh clothing and heat-retaining blankets by emergency workers.
French police earlier on Tuesday had stopped close to 50 migrants from trying to cross the Channel to Britain after mild weather and calm waters led a growing number of people to undertake the dangerous journey in recent days.
Guy Allemand, mayor of the small village of Sangatte near Calais, said some migrants had been forced by police to turn back, but that another 100 had made it to the open waters.
He told Reuters that migrant trafficking networks had recently changed their methods.
“They [traffickers] now arrive with ‘taxi boats’ and the refugees are being asked to run into the water to catch them ... rather than launching their own boats from the beach,” he said.
So far this year more than 40,000 people have crossed the Channel to Britain in small boats, up from 28,526 in 2021. Unusually mild November weather led to a hike in departures.
Earlier this month, Britain and France signed an agreement worth 72.2 million euros ($74.5 million) over the coming year to ramp up joint efforts to prevent illegal migrants making perilous journeys across the Channel.