A boat patrols the English Channel waters | Photo: Picture-alliance/G.Fuller
A boat patrols the English Channel waters | Photo: Picture-alliance/G.Fuller

British and French campaigners are warning about the dangers of migrant Channel crossings after an Iranian woman who reportedly fell into the water while trying to reach England went missing last Saturday. It could be the first case of a migrant death in the Channel, a relatively narrow strait with strong currents. But according to testimonies of survivors and community activists, several people have already disappeared.

After a migrant woman went missing during her attempt to cross the English Channel from northern France to southern England last week, rescue teams called off the search for the migrant last weekend after scouring the busy shipping lane for 24 hours.

The woman and two other migrants were reported to have fallen from a dinghy carrying 19 other people, including four children. A cargo vessel heading towards the British coast spotted the dinghy last Friday.

If confirmed, the woman's death would be the first migrant casualty in the English Channel, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. At its narrowest point - the Strait of Dover - the waterway is 33 kilometers (21 miles) wide and between 120 meters (390 feet) and 45 meters (148 feet) deep.

Lisa Doyle, director of advocacy at Britain's Refugee Council, called for "more safe and regular routes of travel" for migrants, warning that the trip through heavy marine traffic was "treacherous."

"This border kills, silently," French NGO Calais Migrant Solidarity said in an online statement in protest against border enforcement policies it claimed were becoming "more and more violent."

'Huge risk perpetuated by criminal gangs'

Last Friday, British rescuers launched a search after reports that three people with life jackets had fallen into the sea from a boat carrying migrants across the Channel.

Two of the missing migrants were found but the Iranian woman remained unaccounted for. The search, which also involved Belgian and French coast guards, was suspended on Saturday. The UK Home Office interior ministry on Monday said a "thorough and extensive" air and sea search had been carried out, adding it would pursue an investigation into the incident.

"Crossing the Channel in a small boat is a huge risk. The criminal gangs who perpetuate this are ruthless and do not care about the loss of life," the ministry said in a statement.

Dozens of migrants have made the crossing in recent months. Last week, British border guards intercepted two migrants who were crossing the waterway in a kayak. In addition, French authorities rescued 11 migrants attempting the crossing after their boat capsized last week.

In June, British authorities intercepted eight vessels carrying some 74 migrants, including minors, and French authorities caught two additional boats. In January, a British naval vessel began patrolling the English Channel.

Crossings on the rise, estimated number unkown

According to the UK's Home Office, some 539 people attempted to cross the strait on small boats in 2018, with smugglers serving as the conduit. Inofficially, though, migrants who survived the crossing have reported disappearances in the Channel.

"We have already been warned that people have fallen overboard from their boats," an informed source told InfoMigrants. "But no one was found. I am convinced that there are bodies that have not been recovered." The dense ship traffic, strong currents and constant wind make the crossing very dangerous.

Although crossings of the Channel from France to England are on the rise, Britain has fared better than fellow EU nations Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea. This year alone, more than 40,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean (as of August 11) and at least 844 others have died trying (as of August 15), according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

With material from AFP


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