Migrants make the most of calm weather to cross the English Channel in hope of fresh opportunity

ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers spoke to the people making the daunting crossing

Record numbers of migrants have been making the most of the calm summer weather to make the perilous journey from France to the UK, in the hope of fresh opportunities and a new life.

But in a bid to stem the crossings, the UK has agreed to pay France £54 million to stem the flow of migrants.

We knew when we set off at dawn from Dover this would be a day of multiple migrant crossings.

Conditions were ideal - no wind, no swell and considerable early morning mist to provide cover for beach launches in France.

It didn’t take long for us to find a dinghy.

Initially visible only through the binoculars as a tiny black speck on the horizon. As we approached, it became clear the occupants were paddling with no engine, towing another smaller dinghy behind them. None of them were wearing lifejackets. It was a pitiful scene.

We managed to exchange a few words with them and they told us they were all from Sudan and South Sudan. They’d set off the previous night at 9pm, but according to our chart, they were still two miles from the UK/French border.

A group onboard one small dinghy explains where they have come from and how many are making the journey

We ensured they had enough water and tried to report their position to the French coastguard but we got no response. Eventually we radioed Dover coastguard which logged their precise position and said they would monitor them.

Our skipper is well versed in reporting migrant boats and knows he should not attempt a rescue, unless they are in imminent danger of drowning.

A few minutes later we spotted a French coastguard patrol boat nearby escorting another migrant boat towards the international border in the middle of the Channel. We could hear on the radio other boats being tracked and intercepted across on the British side, a massive operation involving the Coastguard, Border Force and RNLI.

A skipper reports the location of the migrants' dinghy.

On Monday a new daily record was set of 430 migrants reaching the UK. Yesterday a further 287 made it across. I suspect on Wednesday the number will be even higher, as migrants race to beat a coming break in the weather.

They are also mindful of the tough immigration rules the government is pushing through Parliament which will see those who enter illegally possibly jailed for up to four years, with the possibility that migrants may be held in a third country while their case is dealt with.

Critics say this will breach the 1951 Refugee Convention and will merely push those seeking to claim asylum here to look for even more clandestine and dangerous routes into the UK.

ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers reports on the packed migrant boats paddling their way to Britain

Many ask why the migrants don’t claim asylum on the Continent, but the fact is many do.

The UK deals with far fewer asylum applications than Germany for example, (roughly 111,000 first-time applicants asked for asylum between January and September), France (87,100), Spain (80,000), the UK (32,000) and Italy (25,000), according to an InfoMigrants data published in 2019 based on Eurostat numbers.

A French coastguard patrol boat escorts another migrant boat towards the international border.

There is no doubt among those heading to the UK on small boats, some are economic migrants, but among them are also those with genuine asylum cases, feeling war or repression, who want to settle in the UK because they already have family here or speak English.

The situation is complex, with many ‘drivers’ compelling people to take such risks with their lives. It’s easy to come to a sweeping judgement on this issue, but the reality is there are many shades of grey, which is why this issue has been so difficult to tackle for years.