‘The days we dread’: Four dead after migrant boat incident in the English Channel

London: Fishermen have helped the navies of France and the UK rescue dozens of migrants from a small boat crossing the English Channel in freezing waters but at least four people have been confirmed dead in the incident.

Ben Squire, owner of Oceanian Drifter Fishing said the skipper of his scallop boats, Arcturus, was first on the scene, in the middle of the night.

Kent Police, Search and Marine Unit and emergency services attend at the RNLI Lifeboat Station in Dover, England. Credit:Getty

He released footage of the rescue to the British media which showed mostly men yelling and clinging on to a donut-shaped inflatable ring, that had formed the sides of a dinghy whose bottom had fallen away.

He said his skipper and crew were heroes who had saved lives.

“He’s a really professional skipper … he kept calm … and his training obviously kicked in,” Squire told ITV.

“Amazingly he got right in next to the sinking boat and managed to come alongside and safely get 31 people on board the boat as it unfolded.”

Members of the Dover lifeboat place a body bag on a stretcher after a large search and rescue operation launched in the Channel off the coast of Dungeness, in Kent.Credit:PA

“They got them aboard, there were 31 of them which is a lot of people, obviously soaking wet, freezing cold, panicking, really scared,” he said.

The footage shows the migrants are predominately adult men but Squire said they also rescued four children.

HM Coastguard, the Navy, Border Force, Kent Police and the French Navy all contributed to the rescue mission and retrieved others from the icy waters.

Temperatures in the UK and France have been sub-zero this week.

“These are the days we dread,” Home Secretary Suella Braverman told the House of Commons.

“Crossing the channel in unseaworthy vessels is a lethally dangerous endeavour, and it is for this reason, above all, that we are working so hard to destroy the business model of the people smugglers—the evil, organised criminals who treat human beings as cargo.

“People do not need to seek asylum if they are already in a safe country. It is vital—literally vital—that we end the illegal crossings of the channel,” she said.

The deaths at sea came less than 24 hours after the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled a tough new policy to try and stop the boat crossings, which reached a record high of more than 40,000 in 2022.

More than a third of those have been migrants from Albania which is a NATO ally and applying to join the EU.

The UK says Albania is a safe country and anyone who travels via France to the UK is abusing the refugee system.

In Sunak’s speech on Tuesday, he said that the international asylum system, drawn up in the shadow of World War II, was obsolete, and that hostile states were currently using migration as a weapon to undermine European stability.

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