British and French maritime authorities have rescued more than 40 migrants trying to cross the Channel into the U.K. in six small boats over two days, officials said on Wednesday.
Five dinghies, carrying 40 people from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, were spotted on Christmas Day, the U.K. Home Office said.
“The evidence shows there is organized criminal gang activity behind illegal migration attempts by small boats across the Channel,” a Home Office spokesperson said.
“We are working closely with the French and law enforcement partners to target these gangs, who exploit vulnerable people and put lives at risk.”
Another boat, carrying three migrants, was intercepted early Wednesday.
All 43 people, including two children, are now in Britain, “where they will be handed over to the relevant partner emergency services or authorities,” a spokesperson for the U.K. coast guard service said.
There has been a sharp rise in the number of migrants attempting to cross the Channel from France since October, despite dangers posed by heavy traffic, strong currents and freezing temperatures.
For years, thousands of migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia have attempted to reach Britain from France — the vast majority by trying to stow away on trucks crossing the Channel.
Police continue to routinely clear migrant camps along the French coast, two years after dismantling the squalid “Jungle” settlement in Calais, which was once home to some 10,000 people.