At least four people died when a small boat apparently full of migrants capsized in freezing temperatures in the English Channel overnight, the British government said on Wednesday.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak calling it a “tragic loss of life”, as he tried to tighten regulations to prevent record numbers of migrants attempting to cross the border.
British media earlier said 43 people had been rescued, including more than 30 who fell into the sea, with fears the death toll would rise.
Migrants have been blocked frequently in Channel In recent years, the use of small boats is not suitable for voyages on the high seas.
At least 27 people drowned trying to cross the English Channel by dinghy on November 24 last year.
The International Organization for Migration estimates that 205 immigrant has been recorded as missing on the Channel since 2014.
Nikolai Posner, of the Utopia 56 group that helps migrants in northern France, said they received voice messages and location alerts from a boat in distress at 2:53 a.m. local time (01:53 a.m. local time). GMT).
“We passed it on to the French and British coastguards by phone. At 3:40am (02:40 GMT), the French coastguard told us the British were handling it.” , he told AFP.
“The location sent to us is in French waters. At 2:59 a.m. our contact was no longer receiving messages on WhatsApp.”
However, Posner said he wasn’t sure if the message came from the same small boat.
The UK Maritime and Coast Guard (MCA) coordinated the rescue operation, which involved Border Force, police and other emergency responders.
The lifeboat was launched from the Channel’s port of Dover at 3:07 a.m. UK time (03:07 GMT), followed by ships from Ramsgate and Hastings along the coast, it added.
A government spokesman said: “At 03:05 today, authorities were notified of an incident in the English Channel involving a small boat of migrants in distress.
“Following a coordinated search and rescue operation led by HM Coastguard, unfortunately there have been 4 confirmed deaths as a result of this incident, investigations are ongoing and we will provide further information. believe in the near future.”
The MCA said at least four lifeboats and three coast guard teams were dispatched, as well as two coast guard helicopters. A fishing boat in the area also came to help.
French officials provided a helicopter and a naval patrol boat.
Record for the largest number of migrants crossing the Channel
Tens of thousands of migrants now regularly attempt to cross the English Channel from northern France to southern England in small boats, a trend that has grown dramatically in recent years.
More than 43,000 migrants have made the journey across the English Channel this year – a record – creating tension between London and Paris over precautionary measures.
Wednesday’s incident comes a day after British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a new deal with Albania to stem the flow of migrants crossing the English Channel from mainland Europe.
A third of those arriving in UK waters this year – almost 13,000 – are Albanians.
He said that, under the agreement, Albanians arriving by boat across the English Channel would be immediately returned to their homeland.
Freezing weather conditions in Northern Europe and wind conditions across the Channel have prevented crossings in recent days.
But a breeze seems to have spurred the latest attempt.
Migrant welfare charities operating in France say winter conditions add to the dangers of trying to cross the English Channel illegally.
“Crossing the road is even more difficult in the winter,” says Posner of Utopia 56.
“The cold makes a difference if people fall into the sea, survival time underwater is much lower.”
He added the risk of fatal hypothermia was “extremely high” when people were in the water.