Six migrants who died in Channel tragedy were Afghan men

Six migrants who died in Channel tragedy were Afghan men, French officials reveal: Hunt for two still missing continues after small boats carrying asylum seekers including children to UK capsized

  • 50 people have been rescued from the sea with search operations ongoing 
  • Two British ships and several French vessels have been involved in the search 

Six Afghans died and two others were missing at sea after small boats packed with UK-bound migrants, including children, sank in the English Channel today.

French prosecutors opened a criminal enquiry on Saturday following the latest disasters involving illegal voyages organised by people smugglers.

It comes almost two years to the day since 27 migrants heading for Britain also drowned when their flimsy inflatable craft collapsed below them.

Philippe Sabatier, the Boulogne prosecutor, said the latest two disasters happened ‘in the early hours, in poor weather and worsening sea conditions.

‘Six Afghan males died, and the vast majority of those involved were also from Afghanistan. They included minors’.

Two British ships and several French vessels have been involved in the search

A group of people thought to be migrants were brought in to Dover, Kent, after six people are confirmed to have died when a boat carrying migrants sank in the Channel this morning

The RNLI bring 50 Migrants ashore at Dover Docks this morning that had been rescued mid channel

A flimsy craft with around 66 people on board was spotted struggling ‘at around 2am’, just off Sangatte, the Calais beach.

An emergency was declared, and the French Navy patrol boat Cormoran was the first vessel to start rescuing dozens of survivors.

Five Afghan men in their 20s and 30s were declared dead at the scene, while a sixth was airlifted to the French seaside town of Le Touquet before dying in hospital in Calais later on.

Around ‘two others’ were still missing at sea by late on Saturday afternoon, said Mr Sabatier.

Another small migrant boat sank in the Channel on Saturday, ‘when 22 people were saved, including one ‘in a critical condition,’ the prosecutor added.

No identities of any victims are yet known, as many were travelling without papers.

A total of 49 survivors were rescued from the first boat – 36 by the French and 13 by the British.

READ MORE: ‘It’s not good, I don’t know if we’re going to make it’: The chilling final phone call from migrant feared drowned to friend in Calais… how desperate crossing led to catastrophe leaving 27 dead

The four French vessels involved in the rescue operations were the Cormoran, the Pluvier, the Abeille-Normandie and the lifeboat of the National Sea Rescue Society of Calais, Notre-Dame de Risban.

Two British ships were also in support – the RNLI 1709 lifeboat from Dover, and a private vessel.

Elisabeth Borne, France’s prime minister, said: ‘This morning, a migrant boat capsized off Calais. My thoughts are with the victims. I salute the commitment of the rescue teams mobilized around the Navy, which saved around fifty shipwrecked people.’

Ms Borne said Herve Berville, France’s Seas Minister, was on his way to Calais.

Franck Dhersin, the mayor of Teteghem near Dunkirk, confirmed that ‘dead bodies were unfortunately found around Sangatte’.

Some 343 people in six boats were detected crossing the Channel on Friday, according to Home Office figures.

It means more than 1,000 made the journey over two days, taking the provisional total for the year to more than 16,000.

Thursday’s figures were recorded as another major search and rescue operation was launched after 17 migrants went overboard and were pulled from the water.

The Home Office said they were all taken ashore for medical checks.

Campaigners said the incident underscored the need for safe passages into the UK.

Steve Smith, chief executive of refugee charity Care4Calais said the incident was an ‘appalling and preventable tragedy.’

‘This terrible loss of life demonstrates yet again the need for a system of safe passage to the UK for refugees. This would enable them to apply for asylum while in France, and then to travel safely to the UK without risking their lives in small boats.

‘It would put the people smugglers out of business overnight,’ he said. 

Two British ships and several French vessels have been involved in a search and rescue operation (stock image)

The English Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world (stock image)

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, urged the Government to focus on creating an ‘orderly and humane asylum system’.

He accused the Government of ‘focusing on passing expensive and unworkable legislation and shutting down existing safe ways to get to the UK.’

Head of bargaining at the Public and Commercial Services union, Paul O’Connor said the Government had ‘blood on its hands’, branding its approach a ‘moral disgrace’.

‘There is a readily available policy to prevent this tragic loss of life,’ he said.

‘Unfortunately, our calls on the Government to adopt it have fallen on stony ground. It’s clear they have no desire to prevent these dangerous crossings.’

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

Natalie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover, said the fatal incident reinforced 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.

READ MORE: ‘The boat was very frail… like a pool you blow up in your garden’: French minister’s haunting words after 27 bodies – including five women and a little girl – were discovered floating in the Channel by fishermen 

‘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.’

It comes after the Government came under fire on Friday following the removal asylum seekers on the Bibby Stockholm barge due to the discovery of Legionella bacteria in the water supply.

The vessel had been billed as an alternative to housing migrants in expensive hotels but all 39 on board have now been placed in alternative accommodation while health checks are carried out.

Senior Conservative MP David Davis said the disembarkment revealed the ‘startling incompetence’ of the Home Office while fellow Tory backbencher Tim Loughton said it was an ’embarassment.’

The Home Office has said the health and welfare of asylum seekers ‘remains an utmost priority’ and that the evacuation was a precautionary measure, with no one on board having fallen sick.

An inflatable dinghy with 29 people on board collapsed on November 24 2021, and the 27 who died were later identified as 16 Kurds from Iraqi Kurdistan, four Afghans, and five other nationalities.

French emergency workers in a telephone centre were later blamed for failing to answer their distress calls properly, but the people smugglers responsible for organising the boat have never been brought to justice.

There were 755 people recorded as crossing the Channel in small boats on Thursday – the highest daily number so far this year.

Since current records began on January 1 2018, 100,715 migrants have arrived in the UK after making the journey.

Last year, five people died and another four went missing while trying to cross from the north coast of France to England.

In 2021, one of the worst tragedies in recent Channel history occurred after 27 people drowned when their small dinghy sank in the middle of the crossing. 

The English Channel is one of the busiest shipping routes in the world and its seas can be highly dangerous.

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