Hunt continues for two missing migrants following death of six Afghan men in English Channel

12 August 2023, 18:19 | Updated: 12 August 2023, 18:24

At least six people have died in the Channel
At least six people have died in the Channel. Picture: Alamy/PA
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Six people who died after a boat sank in the Channel off the French coast were Afghan men - with two more missing.

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A criminal investigation by French authorities has begun after more than 50 people were hauled from the waves by British and French ships in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Philippe Sabatier, the Boulogne prosecutor, said: "Six Afghan males died, and the vast majority of those involved were also from Afghanistan. They included minors."

A patrol boat told authorities that a migrant boat was sinking off the French town of Sangatte at around 4am on Saturday, France's Maritime Prefecture of the Channel and the North Sea said.

Local mayor Franck Dhersin said dozens of boats were trying to make the crossing at the same time.

Some of those who were rescued were children
Some of those who were rescued were children. Picture: PA
Migrants arriving in Dover this week
Migrants arriving in Dover this week. Picture: Alamy

"Several of the boats were facing serious difficulties," he told Reuters. "Near Sangatte they unfortunately found dead bodies."

A volunteer said that migrants were trying to bail water out of the sinking boat using their shoes.

"We saved 54 people, including one woman," said Anne Thorel. "There were too many of them on the boat."

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A UK Government spokesperson said: "We are aware of an incident in the Channel. HM Coastguard are working on a co-ordinated response and further information will be provided in due course."

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has chair a meeting with Border Force following the tragedy.

Suella Braverman said her thoughts and prayers were with the people who died
Suella Braverman said her thoughts and prayers were with the people who died. Picture: Alamy

She said her "thoughts and prayers" were with those affected by the deaths in the Channel.

In a statement, she said: "My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the tragic loss of life in the Channel today.

"I have spoken with our Border Force teams this morning who have been supporting the French authorities in response to this incident."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said it was "desperately" necessary to stop dangerous crossings and "the terrible criminal smuggling gangs who profit while lives are lost."

"Awful news coming from Channel. Another tragedy with yet more lives lost or at risk," she said.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution said a Dover-based volunteer lifeboat crew launched just before 4am to respond to the incident.

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

Natalie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover, said the tragedy underlined the need for joint patrols in the Channel.

She said: "Today's tragedy underlines why we must stop the small boats to keep people safe and prevent loss of life in the Channel.

"These overcrowded and unseaworthy deathtraps should obviously be stopped by the French authorities from leaving the French coast in the first place.

"The time has come for joint patrols on the French coast and a cross-Channel security zone before any more lives are lost."

Labour's shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock called the incident an "appalling, deeply shocking tragedy".

Migrants crossing the English Channel
Migrants crossing the English Channel. Picture: Getty

"We must stop these crossings and defeat the criminal people smugglers," he said on Twitter.

"There can be no more headline-chasing gimmicks or madcap schemes that just make everything worse," he said, in an apparent reference to the Bibby Stockholm migrant barge.

More than 100,000 people have crossed the Channel in small boats since 2018 - the year records began.

The milestone was passed after 755 people were detected crossing on Thursday, the highest daily number so far this year.

It comes despite the government's promise to stop the small boat crossings, with its plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda on hold as it houses migrants in barges and ex-military sites.

The controversial Illegal Migration Act will ban people from claiming UK asylum if they arrive in unauthorised way, which ministers believe will stop the crossings.

But the Supreme Court is yet to decide on whether the Rwanda plan is lawful.