Rescue operation under way after migrant boat sinks trying to reach UK


A boat carrying migrants attempting to reach the UK has sunk in the English Channel.

French authorities have mounted a search and rescue operation off the coast of Dunkirk.

Officials said that 18 people have so far been pulled from the water and taken to hospital, but searches continue.

The Préfecture maritime de la Manche said nearby fishing vessels had been sent to the scene alongside lifeboats, a helicopter, naval and customs ships.

“Eighteen people have already been taken for treatment at Calais and Dunkirk hospitals,” a statement added.

“The boat carrying the migrants sank and search operations are still under way.”

It came just over a week after a man was found dead on a beach near Calais after appearing to have drowned while trying to cross the Channel.

His body was found in Sangatte – the same area where another asylum seeker, Abdulfatah Hamdallah, was found dead in August. In May, a drowned migrant was found at the port of Calais.

The tragedies come after repeated warnings that British government policies on migrants attempting to reach the UK from France were increasing the risk of deaths.

The UN Refugee Agency has called for the British and French governments to make saving lives the “first priority”.

But the Home Office has focused on increasing security along the French coastline and is attempting to increase prosecutors of people smugglers, and asylum seekers who steer dinghies.

The National Crime Agency said sea crossings in small boats had become a more common route to the UK after a fall in freight traffic during the coronavirus pandemic, and crackdowns to stop migrants using lorries.

The government drew up a new “joint action plan” with France earlier this year and put a former royal marine in the post of “clandestine Channel threat commander”, Dan O’Mahoney.

The RAF has sent surveillance aircraft to assist the Border Force, after the UK gave France millions of pounds to increase security along its coastline.

A parliamentary report released last November said “dire” conditions in camps in northern France were among the driving factors behind increasing migrant sea crossings.

“Focusing on increasing border security without improving conditions in the region may have the counterproductive effect of forcing migrants to make desperate journeys across the Channel,” the Foreign Affairs Committee said.

“The UK should work closely with French authorities to improve the conditions for migrants. It should ensure efficient processing of asylum claims by those with relatives in the UK, and make it a priority to maintain close bilateral cooperation with France after Brexit, including on these claim.”


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