Published: 00:01, 23 November 2016
| Updated: 07:29, 23 November 2016
The Coastguard and Dover Lifeboat crew were launched early this morning after a boat containing possible illegal immigrants was found off the shore near Dover.
The emergency services were called out after seven men were seen in a small boat off the coast, who have now been rescued and brought to shore at Folkestone.
The Rescue 163 helicopter was also dispatched to help in the rescue, but it is understood the men from the boat had managed to make their way to Folkestone Harbour and were found there by the search crews.
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Three of the men were suffering from hypothermia.
A spokesman for the Coastguard said: “There are seven people, possibly immigrants, all males, one was on shore the others were in a boat.
"We are now trying to find out where they originated from.
"The Dover Lifeboat and the HM Coastguard crew were launched and are still on the scene.”
A spokesman for police added: "Kent Police were called at 5.32am on Wednesday, November 23 to concerns around one boat at sea, off the coast of Dover.
"The Coastguard coordinated a search for the boat which was located at Folkestone Harbour and seven suspected migrants were also found.
"South East Coast Ambulance Service was also called to assist.
"The matter has been passed to Home Office Immigration Enforcement and any further inquiries should be directed to the Home Office."
The teams carried out an extensive search off Dover after a call was received from a boat reporting people on board were unwell.
The search and rescue efforts continued until it was established that this boat was the one that had made the original call.
Coastguard duty controller Ian Guy said: "A thorough search of the area was made to establish that there was no other boat still out at sea.
"We are satisfied that is the case."
Video: Dinghy recovered in Folkestone
Dover and Deal MP Charlie Elphicke said: “This is yet another sign of the extreme lengths people will go to, risking their lives trying to break into Britain.
“Crossing the English Channel in a small boat as winter sets in is about as dangerous as it gets.
“It’s clear that although the Jungle camp at Calais has been cleared – we now need to be more vigilant than ever.
“This incident underlines the need to ensure we scan our seas for people smugglers, protect our borders and to strengthen our intelligence effort with France.”
Robert Bendhiaf, duty coxswain of Dover RNLI lifeboat, said: "Our lifeboat crews launch simply to assist those in danger or distress at sea.
"We make no judgement on the status of those we rescue, their motives for being on the water, or what brought them into peril on the sea.
"We make no distinction by nationality, race, sex or creed. Once a rescue has taken place and we are satisfied that a casualty is no longer at risk they are handed over to the relevant agencies, be it an ambulance crew, police or – as in this case – Border Force.
"In all instances our lifeboat crews’ concern is for the safety and wellbeing of the person(s) they rescue. In today's incident, myself and fellow volunteers were delighted this morning to discover seven persons safe and well."
A Home Office spokesman added: "At 5.32am this morning, a 999 call to Kent Police raised concerns about a small boat off the coast of Dover.
"The Maritime and Coastguard Agency launched a search and rescue operation with Dover RNLI to locate the boat.
"It is now in Folkestone Harbour and initial enquiries suggest there were seven men on board. All those on board are now being dealt with by Border Force."