French police stop around 50 migrants on way to Britain

By Yann Tessier

Sangatte, FRANCE (Reuters) - French police stopped close to 50 migrants on Tuesday from attempting to cross the English Channel to Britain after mild weather and calm waters led a growing number of people to undertake the dangerous journey in recent days.

Guy Allemand, the mayor of the small village of Sangatte near Calais, said some migrants had been forced by police to turn back, but that another 100 had made it to the high seas.

Trafficking networks have recently changed their method, he said.

"They [traffickers] now arrive with 'taxi boats' and the refugees are being asked to run into the water to catch them ... rather than launching their own boats from the beach," he told Reuters.

On a beach close to the city of Calais, migrants were seen walking along the coast with their belongings wrapped in foil blankets slung over their shoulders, while police inspected two rubber dinghies.

One woman, who did not give her name, told Reuters the boat she had tried to travel on had suffered engine failure, and police had arrived soon after.

So far this year more than 40,000 people have crossed the Channel to Britain in small boats, up from 28,526 last year. Unusually mild November weather lead to an hike in departures in recent days.

Earlier this month, Britain and France signed an agreement worth 72.2 million euros ($74.5 million) over the coming year to ramp up efforts to stop illegal migrants from making perilous journeys across the Channel.

(Reporting by Yann Tessier, writing by Tassilo Hummel, editing by Ingrid Melander, Alexandra Hudson)