Three arrested over Channel migrant deaths

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The BBC’s Andrew Harding witnesses people clambering aboard a small boat bound for the UK

By Matt Murphy
BBC News

Three men have been arrested in connection with the deaths of five migrants in the English Channel on Tuesday, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has said.

The men were detained on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration and entering the UK illegally.

Five people, including a seven-year-old girl, were killed in a crush onboard a boat crossing the Channel.

The boat was carrying 112 people at the time of the tragedy.

Police identified the men as two Sudanese nationals – aged 22 and 19 – and a South Sudanese citizen, also aged 22.

The statement, issued by officials on Wednesday lunchtime, said the men were arrested in a Tuesday night raid by NCA and Immigration Enforcement officers.

Officers have already conducted initial interviews with the men, and with further interrogations to follow in the coming days.

The three are being questioned by officers at a police station in Kent.

The vessel initially ran into trouble early on Tuesday morning, with police witnessing people entering the water from the overcrowded vessel. It was one of a number of small boats which left France at about 03:00 local time amid favourable weather conditions.

Upon seeing the boat in distress, French regional prefect Jacques Billant said the Abeille Normandie patrol boat was immediately deployed to rescue those who had set off on the boat. When they arrived, several people were “unconscious and in great difficulty”.

Six people were taken aboard the patrol boat, before being taken to the beach to be treated by emergency services.

Another 47 people were rescued from the boat by French authorities, according to Mr Billant, but a further 55 remained on board as they did not wish to be rescued. They were among a large group of migrants who arrived in Dover late on Tuesday.

The NCA said the passengers have already been identified and interviewed.

Speaking after the arrest, NCA Director of investigations Craig Turner vowed to identify those behind the smuggling ring.

“This tragic incident once again demonstrates the threat to life posed by these crossings and brings into focus why it is so important to target the criminal gangs involved in organising them,” Mr Turner said.

“We will do all we can with partners in the UK and France to secure evidence, identify those responsible for this event, and bring them to justice.”

The tragedy came just hours after the UK parliament passed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s flagship Rwanda bill, after months of political gridlock. The law aims to send migrants arriving on small boats to have their asylum claims processed in Rwanda, which the UK government hopes will deter people-smugglers.

As of 21 April this year, 6,265 people had crossed the English Channel in small boats since the start of 2024 – almost a quarter more when compared with the same period last year.

Last year, 29,437 people arrived in the UK in small boats.

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