Dozens of migrants rescued from English Channel after small boat incident

Some were pulled from the water after the coastguard and lifeboat crews were called to help Border Force

Rescued migrants arrive at Dover Port in May. More than 10,770 have crossed the English Channel to reach the UK this year, authorities say. Getty Images
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Dozens of migrants have been rescued in the English Channel after a boat they were travelling in got into difficulty off the Kent coast.

Some of the about 80 people were pulled from the water after the coastguard and lifeboat crews were called to help Border Force during the incident on Thursday morning.

Three children, including a six-month-old baby, were reportedly on board.

According to the BBC, the boat had been shadowed by a French warship but reached British waters.

UK Border Force ships, lifeboats and a coastguard helicopter are involved in the British-led search, which also involves two French vessels.

A representative for the coastguard said: "HM Coastguard has been co-ordinating the response to a small boat incident in the Channel this morning. Coastguard helicopters from Lydd and Lee-on-Solent, RNLI lifeboats and Border Force were sent.

"The search has now concluded with all people accounted for and back on land," a spokeswoman said.

The RNLI said lifeboats from Dover and Walmer were involved in the operation.

No deaths have been reported.

At least five migrants, including a seven-year-old girl, died in a failed attempt to cross the channel in April.

Migrants attempt to cross the Channel from France - in pictures

More than 125,000 migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel in the last six-and-a-half years – 80,000 of whom have made the journey since the government struck the deal to send migrants to Rwanda over two years ago – which has since stalled amid legal challenges.

The tally of crossings since Rishi Sunak, who pledged to "stop the boats", became Prime Minister is edging closer to 50,000 while the number arriving since the general election was called is nearing 1,000.

At least 300 arrivals have been recorded already this week.

This includes 34 people the Home Office said made the journey in one boat on Wednesday, taking the provisional total number of crossings for the year so far to 10,779.

This is up 42 per cent on the number recorded this time last year, which stood at 7,610. It is also 8 per cent higher than the same point in 2022, which was 9,984, according to PA analysis of the figures.

The rescue comes as the latest hearing in a legal challenge against the Government's Safety of Rwanda Act, brought by the FDA union representing senior civil servants, takes place at the High Court.

Earlier this week, amid a separate legal action against the deportation policy brought by charity Asylum Aid, the Government told a judge the first flight sending migrants to Rwanda is now not set to take off until July 24.

With immigration a key election campaign battleground, Mr Sunak has consistently pointed to the Rwanda plan to achieve this, describing it as an "indispensable deterrent".

After admitting flights would not take off before the election, he pledged he would stick to the plan if re-elected.

Labour vowed to scrap the policy immediately if elected.

Amnesty International UK said the government "must come to terms with the fact that refusing to set up safe routes for people to seek asylum here, particularly where they have family and other connections, significantly adds to why these journeys continue".

The charity said: "Whoever wins the election needs to radically revise the response to people seeking asylum - including making safe routes available, and abandoning the dangerous and illegal Rwanda scheme."

Charity the International Rescue Committee UK said: "This is yet another completely preventable incident in the English Channel and a reminder that deterrence policies don't work.

"People will continue to put their lives at risk if they feel they have no other choice."

A Home Office spokesman said: "We continue to work closely with our French partners to prevent crossings and save lives."

Updated: June 06, 2024, 1:19 PM