Six Afghans dead in English Channel migrant boat wreck

About 50 people rescued from sinking vessel and taken ashore in France and England

The French search-and-rescue boat Notre Dame du Risban brought five people ashore, but they did not survive. Reuters
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Six people killed when a boat sank while crossing the English Channel to reach the UK have been identified by French authorities as Afghans.

One of the victims died after being airlifted to hospital in Calais, and five others were declared dead after they were picked up by a French lifeboat.

Survivors were rescued by French and British vessels and taken ashore on both sides of the Channel, in a rescue effort involving helicopters, warships and search-and-rescue boats.

About 60 people were rescued after the alarm was raised early on Saturday, according to a statement by a French police command responsible for the Channel.

Boulogne city deputy public prosecutor Philippe Sabatier said all six fatalities were Afghan men, all believed to be in their 30s.

The other passengers on board the doomed ship were "almost all Afghans with some Sudanese, mostly adults with some minors", he said.

Five of the dead were picked up by the French search-and-rescue boat Notre Dame du Risban but they did not survive.

“Unfortunately, the person transferred to hospital in Calais and the five people received by the Notre Dame du Risban have been declared dead,” a French police statement said.

It is the latest deadly incident that shows the dangers asylum seekers face when they try to cross the Channel in small boats.

More than 100,000 people have made the crossing since 2018 but there have been several fatal sinkings in the 35-kilometre strait. In the worst case, 27 people drowned after setting sail in a dinghy in November 2021.

Human traffickers typically overload rickety dinghies, leaving them barely afloat and at risk of being lashed by the waves as they try to reach British shores.

Another 343 people crossed the Channel on Friday, according to the latest figures. The total number this year is more than 16,000 with an average of about 57 per boat.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said her “thoughts and prayers” were with “those affected by the tragic loss of life”.

She said she had spoken to UK Border Force staff who supported the French rescue effort. The UK Home Office said coast guards were “working on a co-ordinated response” to Saturday's wreck.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, urged the Government to focus on creating an “orderly and humane asylum system”.

He accused the Government of “focusing on passing expensive and unworkable legislation and shutting down existing safe ways to get to the UK”.

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne wrote on social media that her “thoughts go out to the victims” as she praised the efforts of the rescue teams.

Patrol ship Cormoran raised the alarm in the early hours of Saturday that the boat was sinking off the French coast.

French warships including the patrol vessel Pluvier were deployed to provide assistance. The British vessels included one from lifeboat charity RNLI, which said a volunteer crew set off from Dover just before 4am.

The Cormoran picked up 33 people, including the person airlifted to Calais who later died. About a dozen people were taken ashore by British authorities but the exact number was unclear.

An investigation has also been opened by the Boulogne prosecutor’s office.

Britain's attempts to shut down the Channel route have been plagued by problems and a barge housing asylum seekers was evacuated on Friday after a legionella scare.

The UK government said blocking asylum claims and attempting to deport people to Rwanda will shut down deadly smuggling networks. Critics said its policies are cruel and that there is a lack of safe options for refugees.

Labour's shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said the latest incident was an “appalling, deeply shocking tragedy”.

“We must stop these crossings and defeat the criminal people smugglers,” he said. “There can be no more headline-chasing gimmicks or madcap schemes that just make everything worse.”

French authorities have stepped up patrols after Britain agreed to pay hundreds of millions of euros to stop migrants embarking on boats.

Updated: August 12, 2023, 9:42 PM