English Channel migrant deaths: 31 ‘found dead’ as they tried to reach UK

Image copyright PRESS ASSOCIATION Image caption Migrants walk past an ambulance after crossing from France

Thirty-one suspected migrants were found dead in the English Channel as they tried to reach the UK, police have said.

It was the second time in two weeks that a large group of migrants were found off Calais.

The four-man crew of a search-and-rescue vessel was alerted by a radio operator as a group of between 10 and 15 people were spotted around half a mile from Looe.

They asked the coastguard and began searching for the migrants.

This approach was launched after a French ship contacted the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre at 4.40am (2200 GMT on Saturday) to alert them to a group of migrants in trouble just north of Calais.

“We sent the crew to the location and on arrival they found 31 people with hypothermia and unconscious,” said a Coastguard spokesman.

“They also had tents and handbags and some of them had Syrian passports.”

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Lifesaving equipment was sent out to the area to help

The bodies were removed from the water by fire fighters before being taken to Kent’s Royal Free Hospital where police said there were significant delays in identifying them.

A local councillor said the group was made up of five Syrians, three Iraqis, two Egyptians and one woman from Uzbekistan.

They were not aware they were going to be found dead, the councillor said.

“It is absolutely shocking and tragic,” said Mike Smith, who is planning to make a formal complaint to the Border Force and Home Office.

He said: “I’m very concerned the Coastguard wasn’t informed of their mission for an hour after the first 999 call. This probably led to somebody getting injured, a rescue vessel being deployed and the British public finding out afterwards.

“They had no time to get assistance.”

The UK Border Force said the group had contacted its emergency number when they were “overcome and became cold and panicked”.

According to the UK Border Force website, boats from the Dover RNLI were called from 7.50am on Saturday to provide support to the French coastguard as they were making the search and rescue operation.

Coastguard spokeswoman Annwen MacMillan said some people were able to walk ashore, while others had to be rescued.

“They were people who were extremely cold and had symptoms of hypothermia,” she said.

Det Ch Insp Sean Rowe, from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, said Kent Police had been in contact with authorities in Calais on Saturday and would be exploring possible criminal investigations.

After arriving at Looe, the rescue vessel’s crew were able to contact the Border Force from the Royal Navy ship HMS Protector by radio.

The Border Force said it was co-ordinating a major search, with support from a Dover RNLI lifeboat and a coastguard helicopter based at Lydd.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Some migrants told rescuers they were Irish

Last week, French police launched a £10,000 reward for information that led to the deportation of 53 people who tried to cross from France to the UK via the Channel Tunnel.

The Calais group were in a single-person and four-person inflatable boat that was picked up off Boulogne, just south of Calais on 19 October.

At least five people were taken to hospital with hypothermia, and 37 others made it into a British naval vessel, theRNLI said.

Migrants in small inflatable boats make up an increasing number of those attempting to cross to Britain from France, but attempts to cross on the other side of the Channel have become fewer in recent months.

Last July, an elderly couple were rescued in shallow water off Cowes in the Isle of Wight after migrants began throwing themselves in front of their ferry from Dover.

More recently, attempts to smuggle migrants from Calais to Britain on vehicles in August led to two suspected British immigrants being arrested at Reading railway station and another three being found hiding in lorries on the M25 in Kent.

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