Home International Migrants drown in Channel, UK’s Sunak says nothing will stop Rwanda policy

Migrants drown in Channel, UK’s Sunak says nothing will stop Rwanda policy

188

Five people, including a child, died in an attempt to cross the English Channel from France on Tuesday, hours after Britain passed a bill to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda to try to deter the dangerous crossings.

People stand on boats in Wimereux, near Calais, after migrants died in an attempt to cross the English Channel, in France, April 23, 2024. Picture: Reuters, Yves Herman

By Yves Herman

WIMEREUX, France – Five people, including a child, died in an attempt to cross the English Channel from France on Tuesday, hours after Britain passed a bill to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda to try to deter the dangerous crossings.

The deaths occurred after an overcrowded small boat carrying around 110 people set out to cross one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. The French coastguard was still searching for any survivors.

“A tragedy occurred on a boat overloaded with migrants early this morning. We deplore the deaths of five people, a seven-year-old girl, a woman and three men,” local prefect Jacques Billant told reporters.

“The engine stopped a few hundred metres away from the shore and several people fell into the water,” Billant said.

Rescuers had arrived quickly and picked up 47 people, he said. Four were brought to hospital but their lives were not in danger.

“Another 57 people stayed on board,” he said. “They did not want to be rescued, they managed to restart the engine and headed towards Britain.”

The boat had left from Wimereux, about 32km south-west of Calais.

A British border force boat carrying more than 20 migrants in life jackets was seen off the coast in Dover, southern England, about 32km from French shores. It was not clear where these migrants had set out from.

The attempts to cross the Channel took place hours after Britain’s parliament passed legislation that will allow the government to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda rather than stay in Britain for processing.

Stopping the flow of migrants is a priority for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government, which says the Rwanda plan will act as a deterrent. Human rights groups and other critics say it is inhumane.

“These tragedies have to stop,” Britain’s interior minister James Cleverly said of the latest migrant deaths at sea.

Sunak, speaking after the bill passed in parliament, said the focus was now on getting flights to Rwanda off the ground. The bill is expected to receive Royal Assent this week, meaning it has passed into law, and Sunak has said he expects flights to depart within 10 to 12 weeks.

“I am clear that nothing will stand in our way of doing that and saving lives,” he said in a statement.

Asylum seekers – many fleeing wars and poverty in Africa, the Middle East and Asia – started arriving in small boats on the English coast in 2018.

More than 6,000 have arrived in Britain already this year, a rise of around a quarter on the same period last year. The worst incident came in November 2021 when 27 migrants perished when their dinghy capsized near Calais.

The Channel is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and currents are strong, making the crossing on small boats dangerous.

The people smugglers typically overload the boats, leaving them barely afloat and at risk of being lashed by the waves as they try to reach British shores.

The first deportation flight to Rwanda in June 2022 was blocked by European judges. Britain’s Supreme Court then upheld a ruling that the scheme was unlawful because migrants were at risk of being sent back to their homelands or to other countries where they would be at risk of mistreatment.

– REUTERS

Previous article11-year old killed, six others injured in Ficksburg farm attack
Next articleUkraine launches military charm offensive as conscription flags