Vietnamese migrants trying to reach Britain rescued off Belgian coast

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

Migrants cross the English Channel from France to Britain. AFP 
Migrants cross the English Channel from France to Britain. 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.

Updated: May 19, 2021 07:01 PM

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