The French Navy was seen by a British newspaper reporter shepherding migrants into UK waters then abandoning them, a UK daily reported on Thursday.
A reporter for The Telegraph said that an overloaded inflatable boat with 16 Afghan migrants, including four women and two children, was struggling a mile inside French waters.
A French naval vessel ushered the boat towards British waters and abandoned it.
The UK has accused France of doing this before, but The Telegraph claimed this is the first time such an act has been independently witnessed by a journalist.
The report came as France pledged to step up cooperation with the UK against migrant smugglers.
Left alone in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, the migrants were picked up by the British border force.
The captain of the boat the reporter was on told him: “They would have gone under if we hadn’t been there. What the French did was a disgrace.”
French authorities told the paper: “The actions of the maritime authorities are centered on safeguarding human life and safe navigation in the Channel. The priority is to assist and rescue each of the boats.”
“However, in view of the number of boats attempting to cross the Channel, state resources must assess the level of distress of each of the boats and prioritize according to the needs and risks in which each of the boats are found.”
The Telegraph reporter was on the same boat as Nigel Farage, Britain’s most high-profile right-wing Eurosceptic.
Farage told the reporter: “We have [Home Secretary] Priti Patel saying what a fantastic job the French are doing, but what I saw today was the French escorting a boat out of French waters and then just dumping the boat in what were rapidly deteriorating conditions.”
He criticized the French authorities' blatant disregard for the migrants’ safety.
“I am pretty certain that if we hadn't been there, that boat would have gone down, because the wind was getting up and the French didn't even tell the British authorities it was there,” said Farage.
“I'm completely opposed to this cross-channel trade in illegal migrants, but at the end of the day, there were 16 Afghans in that boat and they're still people. Today was a pretty poor show.”