More migrants and refugees try to reach UK via English Channel

Officials worry surge in number of migrants and refugees using dinghies to cross aided by human smugglers.

    Britain's Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes is due to meet border officials in the port city of Dover over a sharp increase in the number of migrants and refugees trying to cross the English Channel in small boats.

    The move follows the interception of two vessels carrying 12 migrants and refugees off the southeast English coast.

    In one incident, eight Iranian men were spotted in a small boat near Dover on Friday and brought ashore for medical assessments and immigration interviews. 

    France town becomes transit point for refugees trying to reach UK (2:34)

    About six hours earlier, border officials detained a Syrian and three Iranians found on a dinghy nearby.

    There were several children among the 40 migrants and refugees - from Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan - rescued by British and French authorities on Tuesday.  

    Nokes called the trend "deeply concerning".

    Attempts to cross the English Channel, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, have been rising since October, with authorities on both sides struggling to stop them.

    'Enormous jump'

    Al Jazeera's Sonia Gallego reporting from Dover said: "There's been a surge of more than 220 people who have arrived since the start of November. When you consider that it was only a dozen last year, that is an enormous jump.

    "Officials are worried that another route could be opening up [along the Channel] with the aid of human trafficking gangs."

    Reporting from the other side of the English Channel, Al Jazeera's Bernard Smith said desperate conditions at the camps in Calais may have pushed people to pay smugglers to help them cross the waterway in dinghies.

    "The authorities don't know why people have suddenly turned to dinghies. One theory is that millions of euros spent on strengthening the seaport … has made it difficult for people to get on the back of trucks [and other means] used to get across."

    Britain's Home Secretary Sajid Javid declared the increase in the channel crossing attempts a "major incident", and requested an urgent call with his French counterpart.

    Javid is also assessing whether to deploy additional border enforcement vessels in the channel amid fears it could encourage more people to try to make the crossing, according to the Home Office.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies