A boat carrying more than 60 migrants encountered difficulty Friday as it attempted to make the dangerous crossing across the English Channel from France, and authorities said one person died and another was hospitalized in critical condition after a rescue operation.
French maritime authorities said in a statement that the boat carrying the migrants had partially deflated and that the individual who died was unconscious when rescue ships arrived. They said another person was in critical condition and flown by helicopter to a hospital in the French port of Calais.
Rescue vessels picked up 66 people in all, including the person who died, after the boat in distress was spotted around five miles off the coast of Grand-Fort-Philippe at around 12:30 a.m. local time. The U.K. coastguard said it sent a helicopter to assist the French authorities coordinating the operation.
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The French coast around Calais has long been a jumping-off point for people fleeing conflict and poverty around the world seeking to reach Britain, often via dangerous and sometimes deadly sea journeys across one of the world’s busiest shipping channels.
More than 29,000 migrants have arrived in the U.K. this year after crossing the Channel, the second highest annual total to date since records began in 2018.
Though sharply down from last year’s 46,000, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to “stop the boats” and is currently trying to win approval from lawmakers for a controversial plan to send some asylum-seekers to Rwanda.
Following confirmation of the latest death in the Channel, Britain’s interior minister, James Cleverly, said the government “must and will do more.”
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“The incident in the Channel last night is a horrific reminder of the people-smugglers’ brutality,” he said on X, formerly known as Twitter.
A bill that Cleverly is steering through Parliament seeks to overcome a ruling by the U.K. Supreme Court that the plan to send migrants who arrive from across the English Channel to Rwanda – where they would stay permanently — is illegal.
The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill faces criticism both from centrists in the governing Conservative Party who think it skirts with breaking international law, and from lawmakers on the party’s right, who say it doesn’t go far enough to ensure migrants who arrive in the U.K. without permission can be deported.
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The main opposition Labour Party which is far ahead in opinion polls ahead of a general election next year, has promised to ditch the plan that it has derided as a “gimmick.” The party says the British government’s priority should be breaking up the smuggling gangs that facilitate migrant boat crossings and promoting greater cooperation across Europe.
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the U.K. based Refugee Council, said these “appalling deaths” were all to common and added urgency to the need to “put in place safe routes so people don’t have to take dangerous journeys across the world’s busiest shipping lane.”
“Instead, the government is pushing ahead with its unworkable and unprincipled Rwanda plan as well as shutting down existing safe ways to get to the U.K.,” he said.
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