Vietnamese migrants trying to reach Britain rescued off Belgian coast

Group of 49 brought back to shore after boat took on water

Migrants in a dinghy sail in the Channel toward the south coast of England on September 1, 2020 after crossing from France. - Migrant crossings of the Channel between France and England have hit record numbers, with thousands having arrived in small boats since the beginning of the year. The issue is politically-charged in the UK, with the country's right-wing newspapers decrying the arrivals and many ruling Conservative lawmakers calling for tougher border enforcement. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

Dozens of Vietnamese migrants who were attempting a sea crossing to Britain were rescued off the coast of Belgium.

The Bruges prosecutor’s office said the group of 49 was brought back on shore in the port of Zeebrugge.

“They were in good health but some had mild symptoms of hypothermia,” a statement said.

The boat, believed to have set sail from France, had taken on water and was in distress when spotted, authorities said.

A helicopter was sent to track the boat while rescuers boarded the vessel.

Police will launch an investigation “into the smuggling organisation responsible for these events”.

“Based on initial findings, it is suspected that the boat departed from the French coast, but the investigation will have to confirm this,” Belgian authorities said.

Vietnamese migrants are among those living at a camp for refugees in Grande-Synthe, on the northern French coast. Many of its residents are believed to be trying to cross the Channel to England.

About 100 Vietnamese migrants were moved from Grande-Synthe to be rehoused in shelters on May 6, officials said.

The migrants typically travel from their South-east Asian homeland  via a network that flies them to Moscow then transports them through Europe.

Yann Manzi from the NGO Utopia, a group that helps migrants, said that until recently the Vietnamese kept themselves apart from other migrant populations.

But she said they are now mixing with African and Asian migrants waiting for a place on a boat or a chance to jump in the back of a lorry.

The last leg of the trip, across the sea on a dinghy, or in a lorry carried by a ferry or driven through the Channel tunnel, can be the most dangerous.

In October 2019, the bodies of 39 Vietnamese migrants who suffocated were found in a trailer in Grays Industrial Estate in Essex, south-east England.

An investigation found they had been picked up in northern France and had travelled through Zeebrugge.

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