Europe

Migrants determined to brave the English channel

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Media captionSecurity is being stepped up in English Channel

Hidden behind a large sports centre in a nondescript suburb of Cherbourg, lies a makeshift migrant camp which is home to a group of Afghans who had believed the port here was the answer.

Their question was this: where would they stand the best chance of completing the journey they had begun many months ago from their hometowns in Afghanistan?

Having tried and failed to get through the enhanced security around the port of Calais and the Channel Tunnel, they had decided to travel almost 500km (310 miles) west to Normandy in the belief that the security at Cherbourg would be more easily breached.

And that would mean finally reaching Britain hidden inside a lorry, on a ferry making its way across the Channel.

But it was not to be.

Image caption Many migrants in northern France think they will be able to give their children a better future in England
Image caption The motorboat which locals on the Cherbourg peninsula think was going to be used by migrants to get to Jersey
Image caption Some members of the Iraqi Kurd community living in camps in France are thought to be prepared to risk taking small boats across the Channel

"Someone told me it would be easy, but here it is more difficult," says Amir forlornly.

"There is security and there are CCTV cameras everywhere, so it is very difficult to have any chance to get into a car or truck and then into a ship and go to England."

While Amir says he has never been approached by smugglers offering places on small boats to reach the English coast and would not do it anyway because he thinks it is too dangerous, it seems some migrants and refugees are being tempted by this risky option.

At the port of Carteret on the Cherbourg peninsula, fishermen told me of an incident earlier this year in which a group of migrants had tried to board a motorboat with the apparent intention of reaching the Channel Island of Jersey.

But they were caught by the police.

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And over the past two weeks there have been three incidents involving Albanians and Iranians running into difficulty on board flimsy boats off the south coast of England.

Image caption A makeshift camp inhabited mainly by Albanians can be seen under the cliffs near Dieppe

Inside a large official migrant camp near Dunkirk, one leading member of the Iraqi Kurdish community told me he knew people there who were now desperate enough to take small boats across the Channel.

But it is far from clear how many would really do this given the risks involved and the amounts of money allegedly being charged by the smugglers.

The local French authorities admit there have been a few cases of their coastguard rescuing migrants in small boats, but are convinced the numbers remain small.

Franck Dhersin, mayor of Teteghem near Dunkirk, stresses the difficulties of navigating the Channel with its strong currents, winds and sandbanks.

He argues any smugglers trying to buy motorboats in France would be quickly spotted.

The test of whether this is accurate or wishful thinking will be over the coming months of summer.