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Iranian migrants rescued in aborted English Channel crossing

Two Iranian men trying to crossing the English Channel in an inflatable dinghy have been picked up by a British lifeboat. The UK is the destination of choice for thousands of refugees stranded in Calais, northern France.

The men had been at sea for about eight hours when they were picked up at around 3:30 a.m. (02:30 GMT), approximately 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) from the port of Dover on the UK's southern coast.

At its narrowest point in the Strait of Dover, the English Channel - one of the world's busiest shipping lanes - is around 32 kilometers (21 miles) wide.

A passing ship reportedly noticed a dim light from a mobile phone, rescuers said.

"The P&O ferry Pride of Canterbury was leaving Dover harbor when they saw a very weak light flashing occasionally," said Andy Roberts of Dover Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

"They slowed down and diverted towards the light. It was a mobile phone being held up," he told reporters.

Immediately after getting on the ferry, the two Iranians - aged 40 and 60 - received medical care before arriving at the port of Dover. Neither had had lifejackets or other safety equipment and were extremely cold, Roberts said.

After being brought ashore, the two Iranians were transferred to an immigration office, according to the local Kent Police force.

Migrants at a partially destroyed camp, during the dismantling of the makeshift shelter migrant camp dubbed the 'Jungle', in Calais, France

Migrants during the dismantling of the makeshift shelter migrant camp dubbed the "Jungle" in Calais, France

Second time this year

In February, five Iranian migrants were rescued three miles off the French coast near Calais after their UK-bound boat began sinking. Four were rescued from the boat but a fifth abandoned the vessel and swam ashore to Sangatte, near Calais. They were all found to be suffering from severe hypothermia. The boat was rocked by strong winds en route, having set off from Dunkirk.

This was only the second or third time in 10 years that someone had attempted such a crossing, said Gilles Debove, head of the local French police union.

A French association that supports migrants said it feared more people may try to reach the UK by boat because of tighter controls at the port of Calais and the Channel Tunnel. The migrants were described as Iranians who had been sleeping rough in Calais "for a number of days."

In late February, French police forcibly evicted refugees from the

so-called "Jungle"

refugee camp in Calais using tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon. A census by Help Refugees UK found that since demolition started in March, 4,946 refugees are still living there, including 1,400 in the shipping containers set up by the French government.

jbh/cmk (AFP)

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