A teenager was among the four people who died when a migrant boat capsized in the English Channel on Wednesday, a regional official said. Of the 39 survivors, a dozen were unaccompanied children who have been taken into care in Kent.
It has emerged that one of the victims of Wednesday's migrant shipwreck in the English Channel was a teenager. 43 people were plucked from the waters in freezing temperatures during a major rescue operation - the teenager was among four who did not survive.
On Thursday (December 15), the head of the council in Kent in southeast England, where most migrant boats arrive in the UK, said the tragedy was a "sobering reminder of the human costs of what is an ongoing crisis." Addressing a cabinet meeting, he added that 12 of the 39 survivors were lone migrant children who have now been taken into the council's care.
The UK interior ministry said it would be for a coroner to confirm details of those who died, the news agency AFP reported.
The shipwreck on Wednesday came just over a year after at least 27 migrants drowned when their boat capsized off the coast of France in one of the deadliest accidents in the Channel in recent years. Another five people in that shipwreck remain unaccounted for and are presumed dead, a spokesperson for the Refugee Council told CNN.
Higher death toll prevented
A higher death toll in Wedesday’s shipwreck appears to have been prevented thanks largely to the crew of the fishing trawler Arcturus, who discovered the migrants clinging to inflatable vessels in the icy waters.
Images taken from aboard the fishing boat and shared with British news outlets show a fishing crew hauling panicked people over the side of a partially-deflated dinghy.
In later footage a number of people are seen struggling in the water in the dark, clinging to the side of the fishing boat, as a lifeboat also attempts to come to their aid.
"It was like something out of a Second World War movie, there were people in the water everywhere, screaming," the boat's skipper Raymond Strachan told Sky News.
"I steamed towards the dinghy and we secured it with a rope to the side of the boat. We were trying to pull them off the dinghy."
The crew are believed to have saved 31 of the 39 people rescued during the hours-long operation.
Rescue operations 'like in the Mediterranean'
Volunteers from the National Society for Rescue at Sea (SNSM), who carry out rescue operations off the French coast, recently told InfoMigrants that they have had to be trained for mass rescues because the boats used for the crossing have become bigger, carrying at least 50 passengers, making the journey across the Channel even more risky.
"As the size of the boats increases, we even expect to see, one day, boats in distress with hundreds of people on board, like in the Mediterranean Sea," said Alain Ledaguenel of SNSM.
Moreover, the boats are usually of poor quality: "They are made of tubes inflated with air, a poorly assembled floor, and a stern on which an engine is fixed. These are usually bad Chinese copies of well-known brands. They break down quickly and, in addition, the migrants do not know how to drive them," commented Ledaguenel.
The English Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. According to the IOM, at least 209 people have died in the attempt to cross it in small boats since records started being kept in 2014.
Migrant rights groups in northern France were set to hold a rally in memory of the deceased on Thursday evening. The organizers said the rally also would "denounce the policies at the border which are once again responsible for the deaths of people in exile."
The UK government is trying to pass new laws to prevent the record numbers of migrants from attempting the Channel crossing. This includes plans to make asylum claims by those arriving on small boats inadmissible, even though under international legal obligations the UK has to hear the claims of those seeking international protection.
In a joint statement issued late Wednesday, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and his British counterpart, Suella Braverman, said the incident was "a stark reminder of the urgent need to destroy the business model of people-smugglers."
The number of migrants crossing the English Channel has been growing in recent years: Some 45,000 migrants have made the crossing so far this year, compared with 28,526 for all of 2021 and 8,404 in 2020, according to government figures.
Most of those who arrive ask for asylum -- the spike in arrivals has overwhelmed the UK asylum system, and has caused a backlog in the processing of asylum claims. The British government houses asylum seekers in hotels across the country, and has faced growing criticism over overcrowding and unsanitary conditions at reception facilities.
A majority of those who enter the UK claiming asylum are eventually allowed to stay, according to government figures.
Also read: Two categories of refugees under Britain's new law