English Channel victims were family of five: 15-month-old baby still missing

France calls off search and rescue efforts

A 15-month-old baby boy is missing in the English Channel after four members of his Kurdish-Iranian family drowned when the boat they were travelling in capsized and sank.

Human rights charity HENGAW named the family as Rasoul Iran-Nejad, 35, Shiva Mohammad Panahi, 35, Anita, 9, Armin, 6, and Artin, 15 months.

The family were from the city of Sardasht in western Iran, near to the border with Iraq, sources told the charity.

The family were trying to reach the UK when the vessel got into trouble off Dunkirk, France, shortly after 9.30am on Tuesday.

The BBC reported the family left Iran on August 7 for Turkey, then took a ferry to Italy and then drove to France almost a month ago.

They paid €24,000 (£21,600/$28,000) to people smugglers.

French authorities said no search took place on Wednesday because there was no chance of finding anyone still alive.

Fifteen other migrants were rescued on Tuesday and the French public prosecutor has opened an investigation into the sinking.

Conditions in the English Channel had been rough before a sailboat alerted authorities to a migrant vessel in distress about 1.2 miles off the French coast.

It is the worst loss of life in the Channel since a spike in crossings by migrants seeking asylum in Britain last year.

Boris Johnson pledged to "crack down" on gangs facilitating the crossings.

“My thoughts are with the loved ones of those who tragically lost their lives in the Channel today,” the prime minister said.

“We have offered the French authorities every support as they investigate this terrible incident and will do all we can to crack down on the ruthless criminal gangs who prey on vulnerable people by facilitating these dangerous journeys.”

'A graveyard for children'

Charities expressed horror at the loss of life and said the tragedy should serve as a “wake-up call” to authorities to facilitate the safe passage of migrants.

Care4Calais said: “This unnecessary loss of life has to stop.

A French rescue helicopter lands close to a rescue vessel in Dunkirk, northern France, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020 during a  search operation after four migrants, including a 5-year-old and 8-year-old child died Tuesday when their boat capsized while they and other migrants tried to cross the English Channel to Britain, French authorities said. Fifteen migrants have been saved so far and rescue and search operations are still under way, according to the regional administration for the Nord region. (AP Photo)

"No one should ever feel they have to get into a fragile craft and risk their lives crossing the channel, least of all vulnerable children.”

Save The Children called for a "joint plan" from London and Paris to ensure the safety of vulnerable families, adding: "The English Channel must not become a graveyard for children."

Such crossings have become increasingly common in recent years, despite political uproar in Britain and more police efforts to stop them, but deaths are rare.

French authorities reported four migrant deaths in total in small boats crossing the channel over the whole of 2019.

FILE - In this file photo dated Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, a French gendarme patrols the beach in Ambleteuse near Calais, northern France.  Fifteen migrants have been saved Tuesday Oct. 27, 2020, and rescue and search operations are still under way, but at least four migrants, including a 5-year-old and 8-year-old child, have died Tuesday when their boat capsized while they and other migrants tried to cross the English Channel to Britain, French authorities said. (AP Photo Michel Spingler, FILE)

Despite joint police efforts on both sides of the channel, migrants have long used northern France as a launching point to sneak into Britain, and the issue has long strained relations between the two.

More than 7,400 migrants have crossed the channel to the UK by boat so far this year, up from about 1,800 in all of 2019.

French maritime officials have rescued hundreds more in routine operations in the channel, which is known for high winds, strong currents and heavy maritime traffic.

Yvette Cooper, the Labour Party chair of the UK parliament’s home affairs select committee, described the loss of life as “traumatic”.

She told BBC's Radio 4 Today programme: "The journey is perilous and we've seen an increase in the number of these small boat crossings, these really flimsy boats.

She said the government did not have “a clear enough analysis of the reasons why people are making this journey.”