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More migrants attempt Channel crossing as Covid-19 reaches Calais refugee camps

Gareth Fuller

By Michael Drummond, PA South East Correspondent

At least 52 migrants, including five children, risked their lives to cross the Channel on Thursday.

They were intercepted by Border Force travelling across the Dover straits in four inflatable boats, the Home Office confirmed late on Thursday.

It comes as two cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the Calais migrant community and another in a refugee camp in Dunkirk.

Despite the latest batch of successful crossings, the Home Office has again denied the coronavirus crisis has had an impact on its operational response to the issue.

Home Secretary Priti Patel and her French counterpart Christophe Castaner have “reaffirmed their commitment to tackling this issue since the outbreak of coronavirus”, her department said.

The 52 individuals intercepted on Thursday presented as Iraqi, Iranian and Afghan nationals, and were brought ashore at Dover.

Despite pictures taken in Dover appearing to show Border Force officials not wearing protective gear, the Home Office reiterated that all operational staff have access to the relevant personal protective equipment (PPE).

The latest crossings come as French authorities confirm that two cases of Covid-19 have been identified in the Calais migrant community.

The Calais Prefecture said the individuals were taken into isolation and that around 20 places have been reserved for migrants who may contract coronavirus.

Up to 3,000 migrants are thought to be living in northern France in desperate conditions where they are at high risk from coronavirus.

Clare Moseley, founder of charity Care4Calais, said Europe is “looking at a humanitarian disaster” if steps are not taken to safeguard the migrant community.

She said: “This is a huge concern because here they can’t put in place the mitigation strategies that people are using elsewhere in Europe.

“They can’t use social distancing, they can’t self-isolate and they can’t wash their hands.

“We urgently need the French state to intervene. We need help and we need it now, otherwise we’re looking at a humanitarian disaster.”

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