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UK Royal Air Force sends plane to help monitor migrant crossings

FILE PHOTO: A view shows dinghies being stored at Dover harbour, in Dover, Britain August 9, 2020. REUTERS/Paul Childs

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Royal Air Force has sent a maritime patrol aircraft to help support border control operations in the English Channel after an increase in migrants seeking to cross from France.

Taking advantage of hot weather and calm sea conditions, hundreds of people have crossed the Dover Straits over the past week, many in overloaded rubber dinghies, a development described as “unacceptable” by British ministers.

“The aircraft will track vessels and pass information to the Border Force who will then take any appropriate further action,” a Ministry of Defence statement said. It replaces a different aircraft which undertook similar operations in recent days.

The Home Office, or interior ministry, asked the armed forces last week to help deal with the migrant boats.

The British government has also sought to put pressure on France to do more to stop boats from setting off towards England. France says it is already intercepting many boats.

The two countries said on Tuesday they had agreed to work “at pace” to finalise a new plan to shut down the Channel route.

Refugee rights groups say the British government is exaggerating the impact of the crossings, pointing out that the numbers getting across are tiny compared with flows of migrants in many other parts of the world.

About 4,000 people are estimated to have reached the English shore since the start of this year, a fraction of the numbers who have entered the European Union via Italy, Malta, Greece and Spain after dangerous Mediterranean crossings.

Reporting by Costas Pitas, writing by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison

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