Nine migrants intercepted in February 2019 while attempting to cross the English Channel in a rubber dinghy | Photo: Préfet maritime Manche Twitter @premarmanche
Nine migrants intercepted in February 2019 while attempting to cross the English Channel in a rubber dinghy | Photo: Préfet maritime Manche Twitter @premarmanche

An Iranian migrant who fell into the water while trying to reach England has been declared missing presumed drowned. It could be the first recorded case of a migrant death while attempting to cross this dangerous sea, where several people have already disappeared, according to survivors and activists.

An Iranian migrant fell into the English Channel on Friday, August 9, becoming the first casualty among migrants attempting to the sea route to the English coast.

The victim – whose name and age has not been revealed – was in a boat with 19 others when she fell off the small vessel. Her body was initially spotted about 44 kilometers off Ramsgate in southeast England but has since disappeared. Search missions by the British and Belgian coastguards to recover the body were launched on Friday but were called off the next afternoon pending further information, according to the British Home Office.

“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of this woman at this terrible time,” said the British Home Office in a statement. “Crossing the Channel in a small boat is a huge risk. The criminal gangs who perpetuate this are ruthless and do not care about loss of life.”

Providing details of the survivors on board the small boat, the Home Office said five originated from Iraq and 14 from Iran. They included nine males, six females and four children. The 19 survivors were received by the Kent Intake Unit, medically assessed and found to be well before they were transferred to immigration officials for interview, the statement added.

A missing persons investigation into the incident is being coordinated by the Kent Police    

A ‘bright, intelligent woman’

Earlier this week, a British immigration source told the UK daily, the Times, that the woman’s family said she was “a bright, intelligent woman with a PhD who wanted to start a new life”.

If the death of the Iranian woman is confirmed, it would be the first official death of a migrant attempting to cross the Channel. More than 1,200 migrants are believed to have attempted this dangerous crossing to England since the start of 2019.

Unofficially, however, migrant survivors of the crossings speak of other disappearances in the English Channel. "We were already warned that people have been thrown overboard from their boats," an informed source told InfoMigrants. “But none have been found. I am convinced that there are bodies [in the Channel waters] that have not been recovered.”

In September 2018, a body was washed back by the waves on a beach near the French port city of Calais, said the source, adding, "In my opinion, it was a migrant who had gone overboard".

The density of the traffic in the Channel, the world’s busiest shipping passage, coupled with strong currents, shallow waters and high velocity winds throughout the year make it a very dangerous crossing.

The Channel ‘never returns bodies’

The cases of disappearances are plausible, according to François Guennoc, vice-president of Calais-based NGO L’ Auberge des Migrants. "This sea never returns the bodies...We only found the bodies of two Syrians on the Norwegian and Dutch coasts. We knew they had left Calais because they wore wetsuits bought at [the French sportswear retail chain] Decathlon. They probably drowned while crossing the port of Calais and their bodies, protected by these wetsuits, were found [off the North Sea coast]. "

On August 9, the day the Iranian migrant disappeared in the Channel, 30 other migrants -- including two in a kayak -- were intercepted and taken to the English coast, while attempting to cross the Channel. On the same day, 11 people, including several teenagers, were rescued off northern French coastal city of Boulogne-sur-Mer when they fell into the water. Only three of them were equipped with lifejackets.



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