Three arrested after five die in Channel boat crossing tragedy

Three people have been arrested on suspicion of immigration offences after five migrants including a child died while trying to cross the Channel.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) said investigators are questioning two men from Sudan, aged 19 and 22, and a third 22-year-old suspect from south Sudan over the tragedy.

They were arrested on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration and entering the UK illegally.

The 55 surviving boat passengers have already been interviewed and are expected to be spoken to further in the coming days.

More than 400 migrants arrived in the UK on the day the group died.

The crossings took place as the tragedy off the coast of northern France unfolded, just hours after Parliament passed legislation aimed at getting the Government’s plan to give asylum seekers a one-way ticket to Rwanda off the ground.

A dinghy carrying more than 100 people set off from Wimereux at around 6am on Tuesday but got into difficulty.

Three men, a woman and a girl died, according to the French coastguard.

Some 49 people were rescued but 58 others refused to leave the boat and continued their journey towards the UK, the coastguard said in a statement, with several other boats later embarking on the crossing.

(PA Graphics)

The incident reportedly took place as rival migrant groups all tried to scramble into the boat, causing it to become heavily overcrowded.

According to Sky News, one group had taken the boat down to the water’s edge and were about to move into the sea when they were attacked by a second group who stormed the vessel.

The boat hit a sandbar as it embarked on its journey, at which point the woman and child went overboard and drowned, but it is not yet clear how the other three people died, the broadcaster reported.

BBC footage of the scene on the beach showed groups of people, some with sticks, crowding a boat and letting off fire crackers in a bid to keep police at bay, with cries of “Help” later appearing to come from the boat as it floated out to sea.

Asked by a BBC reporter if they could have done more to stop the boat from launching, a police officer said they are not allowed to enter the water and had to be careful because there were children present as well as migrants with sticks.

Migrant Channel crossing incidents
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover in Kent by Border Force officers following a small boat incident in the Channel (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Home Office figures show 402 people made the journey in seven boats that same day after an eight-day break in activity in the Channel, which suggests there was an average of around 57 people per boat.

Young children and babies were among those seen being taken ashore in Dover, Kent, while witnesses saw crews carrying someone on a stretcher from a lifeboat to an ambulance.

The latest crossings take the provisional total for the year so far to 6,667 – 20% higher than this time last year (5,546) but slightly lower (down 0.4%) than the figure recorded at this stage in 2022 (6,691).

Some 29,437 people made the journey in 2023, down 36% on a record 45,774 arrivals in 2022.

Campaigners said the Rwanda plan will not save lives as they lamented the news of more deaths due to the treacherous journey and called for the Channel not to become a graveyard for children.

But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the incident underscores the need for the deterrent the Government hopes sending migrants to the east African nation if they arrive illegally in the UK will bring.