At Least Four Dead After Migrant Boat Capsizes in English Canal

At least four people have died after a small boat thought to be carrying migrants capsized in the English Channel between the U.K. and France, authorities confirmed after a major search and rescue operation was conducted in the early hours of Wednesday morning. 

The UK’s South East Coast Ambulance Service said it sent resources to Dover, England, after getting a call regarding the incident at around 3:40 am GMT (10:40 pm ET), said PA Media. The rescue operation was aided by French forces.

British Home Secretary Suella Braverman said that “tragically there have been four fatalities” but said it would be inappropriate to go into details. The UK government declined to comment on the number of people in the boat–which media outlets have estimated to be in the “dozens”–and the number of people rescued in the joint UK-France operation, which involved help from the UK’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the British Royal Navy, Border Force, the French Navy, and Kent Police. 

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who’s been trying to tighten rules to prevent record numbers of migrants from crossing into the country, called it a “tragic loss of human life.” 

The deaths were likely a result of the Channel’s freezing cold waters, which were down to 33 degrees Fahrenheit at Folkestone Beach overnight. According to the U.S. Search and Rescue Task Force, water temperatures of 50-60° F cause exhaustion or unconsciousness in 1-2 hours, with an expected survival time of 1-6 hours.

The tragedy is not the first of its kind, as migrants in small, ill-suited boats have been regularly intercepted in the English Channel for the past few years; just this year, a record 43,000 migrants made the same crossing, a large number of them asylum seekers from Africa and southeastern Europe. On November 24th last year, more than 26 migrants drowned while attempting to cross the Channel. The International Organization for Migration estimates that 205 migrants have been recorded as missing in the Channel since 2014.

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