Two dead in Channel small boat sinking

France opens manslaughter probe into deaths of two migrants

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Thursday 23 November 2023 08:05 GMT
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dungeness, Kent
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dungeness, Kent (PA)

A man and a woman drowned on Wednesday when a small boat trying to cross the Channel to the UK capsized just after leaving the French coast.

One person was airlifted to safety while at least 57 others were rescued by boat and taken to the French town of Boulogne-sur-Mer. Several of those rescued were suffering from hypothermia, the authorities said.

Boulogne-sur-Mer prosecutor Guirec Le Bras said a manslaughter investigation has been launched into the deaths of the migrants, who have been identified to be in their 30s.

The prosecutor added that the dinghy, which capsized less than a kilometre from the French shore, was among several other small boats that left a beach near the French town of Neufchatel-Hardelot on Wednesday morning.

The boat reportedly got into difficulty in French waters shortly after 1pm (local time) and drowned.

The HM Coastguard was working with the French Coastguard to coordinate "the response to an incident involving a small boat in the French search and rescue region", a spokesperson said.

“The Coastguard helicopter and the RNLI [Royal National Lifeboat Institution] are assisting in the response. HM Coastguard will continue to work with partners to respond to those in distress around the seas and coastal areas of the UK," the spokesperson added.

The last Channel deaths were reported on 12 August when six Afghans drowned after their boat capsized. That was the worst small boat accident since 24 November 2021, when at least 27 people died in an overloaded boat.

In a separate incident on Wednesday, several people from another dinghy were rescued following an attempted small boat crossing in the Channel.

Photographs of the scene showed groups of people being brought in to Dungeness, Kent, by an RNLI lifeboat. One person was pictured being taken away from the shore on a stretcher.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said: “We are heartbroken by this loss of life and our immediate thoughts are with the family and friends who have lost their loved ones.

“The new home secretary must finally be the one to face up to reality.

“People will continue to attempt dangerous Channel crossings while they are without safe access to fair and efficient asylum procedures on each side of the water – including safe routes to the UK for people whose family and other connections are here.

“We urge ministers to radically change their focus – rather than trying to avoid all responsibility for asylum, the UK must accept its part in providing safety and encourage other countries to do the same.”

More than 27,200 people have crossed the Channel in small boats so far this year, against a record 45,000 in 2022, according to British authorities.

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