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Migrant boat crossing Channel from France capsizes, at least six dead

At least six people died, and more than 50 were rescued after a migrant boat attempting to cross the English Channel from France capsized early on Sunday.

French authorities reportedly launched a massive rescue operation around 6 a.m. local time as dozens of migrant boats tried to make the crossing all at the same time.

“Several of the boats were facing serious difficulties,” local mayor Franck Dhersin told Reuters. “Near (the coastal town of) Sangatte they unfortunately found dead bodies.”

French marine authorities confirmed that there were at least six deaths and said that search-and-rescue operations were ongoing, Reuters reported.

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French rescue boat arrives, in Calais

Notre Dame du Risban, an SNSM lifeboat, enters the port of Calais following a rescue operation after a migrant boat trying to cross the Channel from France capsized, in Calais, France, August 12, 2023. (REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol)

Thousands of migrants have attempted the dangerous crossing from France to England in recent years, seeking asylum in the U.K. 

Human traffickers taking advantage of the migrants’ plight will load them up on makeshift dinghies, which can barely keep afloat and are vulnerable to waves and heavy shipping traffic as they make their way towards Britain.

A volunteer aboard one of the rescue boats told Reuters they had saved 54 people from the capsized craft. She described how frantic migrants were using their shoes to bail out water of the sinking boat, which was overloaded.

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said junior Maritime Affairs Minister Herve Berville would head to Calais, near where one of the migrant boats capsized. “My thoughts are with the victims,” she posted on messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

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French rescue boat arrives, in Calais

At least six migrants died after their makeshift boat capsized in the English Channel, authorities said.  (REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol)

The British coastguard said it sent a lifeboat from Dover to assist rescue efforts, along with a coastguard rescue team and ambulance staff.

A UK Border Force vessel and two lifeboats rescued all of those on board another small boat in the Channel in a separate incident on Saturday, the British coastguard added.

“My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the tragic loss of life in the Channel today,” said British Home Secretary Suella Braverman. “This morning I spoke with our Border Force teams who have been supporting the French authorities in response to this incident.”

Since 2018, more than 100,000 migrants have attempted the crossing from France to England, according to the U.K. government. This year alone, nearly 16,000 migrants tried to cross.

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Migrant boat trying to cross the Channel from France capsized

Rescued migrants sit on a French rescue ship after a migrant boat trying to cross the Channel from France capsized, in Calais, France, August 12, 2023. (ANNE THOREL/SNSM HANDOUT via REUTERS)

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has promised to “stop the boats” as members of the ruing Conservative Party have criticized his government for failing to act. In June, Sunak took credit for reducing crossings by 20% compared to last year, but the Labour Party has accused Sunak of failing to clear a backlog of tens of thousands of asylum claims while more migrants continue to arrive.

The migrants who come to the U.K. have been housed in hotels at a cost of 6 million pounds ($7.4 million) per day. 

Reuters contributed to this report. 

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