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UK to send migrant boats back to France

A group of migrants arrive via the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) on Dungeness beach on 7 September 2021 in Dungeness, England. [Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]
A group of migrants arrive via the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) on Dungeness beach on 7 September 2021 in Dungeness, England. [Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]

Britain has approved plans to turn away boats illegally carrying migrants to its shores, deepening a diplomatic rift with France over how to deal with a surge of people risking their lives by trying to cross the English Channel in small dinghies, Reuters reports.

Hundreds of small boats have attempted the journey from France to England so far this year, across one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Britain's border officials will be trained to force boats away from its waters but would only deploy the new tactics when deemed safe to do so, according to a government official who asked not to be named.

Michael Ellis, Britain's acting attorney-general, will draw up a legal basis for border officials to deploy the new strategy, the official said.

The Home Office, or interior ministry, said: "We do not routinely comment on maritime operational activity."

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In a letter leaked to British media, France's Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said forcing boats back towards the French coast would be dangerous.

Darmanin protested that "safeguarding human lives at sea takes priority over considerations of nationality, status and migratory policy", the reports said.

France and Britain agreed in July to deploy more police and invest in detection technology to stop Channel crossings. French police have confiscated more dinghies but they say they can only reduce the flow of departures.

More than 13,000 migrants have crossed the Channel so far this year. The 2021 total is already far higher than 2020's total of 8,417, even though there is still more than a quarter of the year left, ITV reported on Tuesday.

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