Asylum-seekers in Channel ferry stand-off threatened to throw their children in the sea

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A group of Romanian asylum-seekers threatened to throw their children into the sea from a cross-Channel ferry after British immigration officials warned they would be sent back to France.

A group of Romanian asylum-seekers threatened to throw their children into the sea from a cross-Channel ferry after British immigration officials warned they would be sent back to France.

Crew members on board the Transmanche ferry, Sardinia Vera, became suspicious about the group as the ship arrived at the East Sussex port of Newhaven at 3pm on Tuesday.

Immigration officers boarded the boat at 6pm and, after checking the ship's passenger manifest, challenged the group of three men, five women and eight children. Some members of the group became aggressive and threatened to throw their children, including babies, overboard, according to a member of a lifeboat crew which was standing by.

Ian Johns, coxswain of Newhaven lifeboat, said: "The intention of the immigration officers was to send the group straight back again, at which point the group threatened to chuck their babies over the side of the ship. We were required by the police to stand by with a launch out of sight of the boat just in case anything happened."

After lengthy negotiations, the group was taken to the harbour terminal and interviewed. It was discovered that the Romanian group was travelling under false documents but they were allowed to apply for asylum.

The stand-off at Newhaven came as search teams were finally able to enter a flagship immigration removal centre where £38m of damage was caused in rioting by asylum-seekers a fortnight ago. Two accommodation blocks at the showpiece Yarl's Wood centre near Bedford were destroyed by a fire which raged out of control for nearly 12 hours during the disturbances on 14 February. Police estimate that the search will take three months to complete.

Some 40 people are believed to have fled the centre during the rioting and a spokeswoman for Bedfordshire police said yesterday that 21 people remained unaccounted for.

There is no evidence as yet that anyone died in the disturbances but police experts specialising in the recovery of human remains will comb the rubble in the coming weeks.

The search team includes a number of officers involved in investigations at the scenes of the rail disasters at Selby, north Yorkshire and Ladbroke Grove in west London.

"This is really a unique event in terms of the scale and nature of the fire," said Sergeant Mark Harrison, who is leading the search of the site. "A fair comparison would be that it's like a combination of a large industrial fire and a rail disaster."

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