Home   Dover   News   Article

More deaths in English Channel were inevitable, charities warned

When 32 people drowned crossing the English Channel last year, some feared another tragedy was inevitable.

Devastatingly, those worries were today confirmed - with four people having died after an asylum seeker dinghy capsized into freezing water overnight.

The sunk dinghy off Calais from last year. Picture: Local lifeboat crew
The sunk dinghy off Calais from last year. Picture: Local lifeboat crew

A search and rescue mission was launched today, led by HM Coastguard and assisted by the RNLI and Border Force.

It is understood 47 people were on board the inflatable boat before it hit trouble, with 43 reported to have been brought to shore.

But this morning's heartbreaking events seem all too similar to a tragedy in the Channel 13 months ago, when another unsuitable boat sank, leaving its occupants to drown in the icy cold water.

The dinghy - carrying 34 people - had left the French coast on November 24, 2021, aiming to reach the UK.

But after capsizing, all but two of those aboard died.

A vigil was held last month to remember the 32 people who tragically died last year. Photo: Andy Aitchison
A vigil was held last month to remember the 32 people who tragically died last year. Photo: Andy Aitchison

Call logs, released last month, revealed those on board the boat had made desperate calls to both the British and French authorities - but sadly no help arrived.

In total, 15 calls were made to the French and a boat had been sent by the British but found nothing.

Those struggling in the water were falsely told aid was on its way.

Within half an hour of the last call being made the French closed their mission, assuming help was no longer needed or the group had already been rescued.

The reality was that they were almost all dead or slowly dying.

Nine hours later, a French fisherman discovered a deflated grey dinghy, two terrified young men moments from death and the bodies of 28 men, women and children bobbing on the surface.

Emergency crews at the scene this morning in Dover
Emergency crews at the scene this morning in Dover

Four people are still missing.

Twenty-one people have been arrested since the tragedy, five soon after and 15 at the end of June.

And last month, Harem Ahmed Abwbaker was arrested in connection with the deaths, having alleged to be a member of the organised crime group who conspired to transport the migrants to the UK in a small boat.

And on the anniversary of the disaster last month, Hannah Marwood from charity Care4Calais warned another tragedy was highly likely unless urgent action was taken.

Speaking to KMTV she said: "What's really frustrating to see is that we are pretty much in the same position that we were a year ago.

"Very little has changed, people are still having to risk their lives to cross the channel and from my perspective, the government has done very little to stop it from happening."

The marina in Dover was taped off by police earlier today
The marina in Dover was taped off by police earlier today

Phil Kerton, from the Seeking Sanctuary charity, said deaths in the Channel had been foreshadowed for years.

Speaking in November 2021, he said: "This horrific news fulfils forecasts that we and others have been making for years.

"Who knows how many more have perished in the Channel without their deaths being observed or their bodies recovered?"

Responding to today's incident, the founder of Care4Calais, Clare Moseley, added: “There are no words to express our horror and grief at today’s tragedy.

"A full year on from 32 people losing their lives in the Channel, our Government has done nothing to prevent further deaths and so has failed both the refugees who need our help and our country.

“Three weeks ago we stood in solidarity with the relatives of those 32 souls and felt their undiminished grief.

"It is unbearable to think that more families will now suffer the same pain.

Clare Moseley from Care4Calais
Clare Moseley from Care4Calais

“Both then and now, these deaths are wholly unnecessary and preventable.

"By failing to act, our government has blood on their hands.

"The people we work with in Calais have not only suffered the very worst horrors in this world - conflicts, human rights abuses and torture - they have been brave and resilient enough to escape and survive incredible journeys to come here and ask for our help. And yet we deny them.

“Recently released government statistics show asylum acceptance rates of 82 to 98% for the people we work with.

“We know it’s possible to give people safe passage – we do it for Ukrainian refugees.

"If other refugees were given safe passage across the Channel, people smugglers would be put out of business and refugees would be safe."

The unfolding emergency today comes a day after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a five-point plan to stop perilous crossings of the world's busiest shipping lane.

Natalie Elphicke MP for Dover
Natalie Elphicke MP for Dover

But they were slammed as "appalling and grotesque" by charities with the fact no safe routes to claim asylum cited as the main reason for the continued crossings.

Speaking to Sky today, Natalie Elphicke, MP for Dover said she was "saddened to hear of this tragedy in the channel today".

She added: “Waking up to the news that I fear as the MP for Dover and Deal day after day.

“Lives lost, only 43 saved, only due to the bravery and professionalism of the rescue services that operate out of Dover and our east Kent coast and I have to pay tribute to them and thank them for their rescue mission in treacherous wintry conditions.

“It is a matter of great urgency that the boats are stopped from entering the water from France.

“The number of people crossing is now very near to 45,000 people - that’s the result of industrial illegal immigration by organised criminal gangs operating on the shores of France.

“It is urgent that the Prime Minister, who is taking personal responsibility for this issue, has a summit with President Macron and that action is taken to bring this to an end before we have further loss of life in the Channel."

Police at the waterfront in Dover this morning
Police at the waterfront in Dover this morning

Reacting to news of this morning's tragedy, North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale said: “This is yet another desperate example of lives being put at risk by people traffickers who have no interest in anything other than hard cash.

"It is quite appalling and we suspect there will probably have been women and children on board which makes the matter, if that’s possible, even worse.

"The Prime Minister has made considerable efforts to achieve cooperation with the French president and I think that initiative will yield results in due course.

"He has also seen the Prime Minister of Albania and arranged for the swift return of the Albanian economic migrants who are not asylum seekers.

"Those are two small steps in the right direction.

"This is not an Anglo-French problem, it's a pan-European problem and it requires a pan-European solution and anyone who suggests otherwise I’m afraid is wrong."

This year almost 45,000 people have arrived via the Channel, more than in any other year on record.

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More