Migrants drown in Channel, Sunak says nothing will stop Rwanda policy

Migrants drown in Channel, Sunak says nothing will stop Rwanda policy
Migrants cross the English Channel on a small boat, with a French warship in the background, on 06 March 2024. The UK government has suffered more setbacks at the House of Lords recently on its plan to send migrants to Rwanda to deter the Channel crossings. Despite the British and French government's efforts to prevent migrants from making the dangerous journey on small boats, many are willing to take the risk to claim asylum in the UK. EPA-EFE/TOLGA AKMEN

PARIS/LONDON, April 23 (Reuters) - At least five people, including a child, died in an attempt to cross the English Channel from France, hours after Britain passed a bill to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda to try to deter the dangerous crossings.

The deaths of one child, a woman and three men occurred on an overcrowded small boat carrying around 110 people attempting to cross one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. The French coastguard was still searching for survivors.

“After becoming initially stranded on the shore, the boat set out to sea again. A crowd movement apparently occurred in the overloaded boat, causing several victims,” a coastguard official said.

Neither the coast guard nor police could say how many people had been rescued or could be missing. A British border force boat carrying more than 20 migrants in life jackets was seen off the coast in Dover, southern England, about 20 miles (32 km) from French shores.

The attempts took place after Britain’s parliament passed legislation that will allow the government to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda rather than stay in Britain for processing.

Stopping the flow of migrants is a priority for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government, which says the Rwanda plan will act as a deterrent. Human rights groups and other critics say it is inhumane.

“These tragedies have to stop,” Britain’s interior minister James Cleverly said of the migrant deaths at sea.

Sunak, speaking after the bill passed in parliament, said the focus was now on getting flights to Rwanda off the ground. The bill is expected to receive Royal Assent this week, meaning it has passed into law, and Sunak has said he expects flights to depart within 10 to 12 weeks.

“I am clear that nothing will stand in our way of doing that and saving lives,” he said in a statement.

Asylum seekers – many fleeing wars and poverty in Africa, the Middle East and Asia – started arriving in small boats on the English coast in 2018.

More than 6,000 have arrived in Britain already this year, a rise of around a quarter on the same period last year. The worst incident came in November 2021 when 27 migrants perished when their dinghy capsized near Calais.

The Channel is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and currents are strong, making the crossing on small boats dangerous.

The people smugglers typically overload the boats, leaving them barely afloat and at risk of being lashed by the waves as they try to reach British shores.

The first deportation flight to Rwanda in June 2022 was blocked by European judges. Britain’s Supreme Court then upheld a ruling that the scheme was unlawful because migrants were at risk of being sent back to their homelands or to other countries where they would be at risk of mistreatment

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel and Inti Landauro, and Sarah Young in London, Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Angus MacSwan)


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