The four people who died after an inflatable boat capsized in the English Channel have still not been identified, but they are likely of Afghan and Senegalese heritage, an inquest has heard.
Their provisional cause of death is drowning.
The men pronounced dead following a major rescue operation off the Kent coast in the early hours of December 14, after reports of a boat in distress. Thirty nine people were rescued in the incident, including 12 children.
About 45,000 migrants have made the perilous crossing from France to Britain in small boats this year. The UK government has stressed its determination to prevent such crossings by aiming at people smugglers. It also intends to send anyone who enters the country illegally to Rwanda, while their asylum claim is assessed.
Coroner Katrina Hepburn opened the inquest in Kent on Friday morning,
Reading a report by Detective Inspector Ross Gurden of Kent Police, she said: “The identity of the individuals is unknown and is being actively researched”.
It is “possible” two of them were Afghanis, while the other two were of Senegalese heritage, the report said.
They were confirmed dead between 6:22am and 11:24am on the day of the incident, it was heard.
Mobile phones and paperwork were recovered from the scene but have been damaged by seawater, the coroner said.
DI Gurden wrote in his report a private fishing vessel encountered the migrant boat, a dinghy with a motor, in distress with a number of people in the water at 3:42am.
The boat was described as “wholly unsuitable to make the crossing”.
He said 39 people were rescued, brought back to shore and taken to a migrant reception centre to receive medical attention.
The circumstances surrounding the deaths are being investigated by detectives from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, assisted by the National Crime Agency.
Ibrahima Bah, 19, of no fixed address, was arrested in connection with the incident last Friday.
Kent Police announced on Sunday that Bah had been charged with knowingly facilitating the attempted arrival in the UK of people he knew or had reasonable cause to believe were asylum seekers.
He appeared at Folkestone Magistrates’ Court in Kent on Monday and pleaded not guilty to facilitating attempted illegal entry to the UK.
Ms Hepburn suspended the inquest proceedings until a later date on the basis of the continuing police investigation.