Iranian migrants steal French boat and sail to Britain

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A group of Iranian migrants stole a fishing boat from a French port and sailed across the Channel to Britain, slipping past border officials to complete a journey attempted by thousands each year.

Seventeen migrants, including three children, reached England early Tuesday aboard the fishing boat stolen from a French port near Calais, British officials confirmed Tuesday.

Britain's Home Office, the interior ministry, said the group was intercepted at Dover harbor.

“Fourteen men and three minors, all of whom presented themselves as Iranian, were found on board,” a spokesman said, adding that their asylum cases would be reviewed and that the minors had been referred to social services.

French prosecutor Pascal Marconville, who is leading the investigation into the theft, said the engine had been hotwired (started without a key) and that the migrants managed to “escape the watch” of port authorities in making their getaway.

Every year, thousands of migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia, many of them minors, attempt to reach Britain by stowing away on trucks crossing to England, mainly through the French port of Calais.

For many the attempt ends in failure, with French police routinely detaining migrants caught trying to climb onto trucks.

On Monday evening, French officials became suspicious after noticing a boat that was taking a “bizarre” route across the Channel, said Ingrid Parrot, spokeswoman for maritime authorities in northern France.

Officials tipped off British authorities and contacted the owner of the 12-metre (40-foot) boat, who said it had been stolen from the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer, about 35 kilometers (21 miles) west of Calais.

Parrot called the crossing “unprecedented”, noting that migrants had previously used much smaller boats to try reach their journey's end, with little success.

So far this year French maritime officials have launched 23 operations either to rescue migrants at sea or to stop groups about to set sail.

On land, meanwhile, the police continue to routinely clear migrant camps around Calais, two years after dismantling the squalid “Jungle” settlement, which was home to over 7,000 people at one point.

Last month, French authorities cleared 1,800 people, most of them Iraqi Kurds, from a makeshift camp near the port of Dunkirk.

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