Child among as at least five migrants die in attempt to cross English Channel just hours after Rwanda bill passed

A child is among at least five migrants who have died in an attempt to cross the English Channel, just hours after Rishi Sunak’s flagship Rwanda bill was passed by Parliament.

The victims were among more than 110 people who were on a small boat which capsized on hitting a sandbank after setting off from a beach in the town of Wimereux in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.

The five who died included three men, a woman and a child, a spokesperson for the French coastguard said. Local newspaper La Semaine dans le Boulonnais reported that the child was a girl aged four.

The boat capsized during “mass panic” onboard after the small vessel hit a sandbank, said one refugee charity worker, who witnessed the return of some of the migrants.

Dany Patoux, of charity Osmose 62, added: “People began to fall into the water, and then the boat capsized, flinging everybody in to the very cold sea.”

Among the survivors was the father of the girl who had died, said Mr Patoux, who added: “[He] fell into our arms right away. He was crying, in a daze. He saw his little daughter die before his eyes.”

The tragedy took place during a “busy” morning for emergency services in the town, located 20 miles south of Calais, with the mild weather conditions reportedly making crossing attempts favourable.

At least five small boats were reportedly seen being pushed from the beach in the town this morning, with many children onboard the vessels.

The deaths came shortly after the government’s controversial Rwanda bill was passed, with the legislation set to see asylum seekers flown to the African country to have their claims processed.

Footage from BBC News shows migrants in small boat at Dunkirk on Tuesday morning after the French coat guard confirmed at least five people had died attempting to cross the English Channel

Ministers say it will deter people from arriving in the UK by small boats.

The passing of the bill brought a heated exchange between Michael Tomlinson, the minister for illegal migration, and BBC Radio 4 presenter Mishael Husain on Tuesday morning, with Mr Tomlinson telling told presenter Mishal Husain he was “frustated” with her questions on details for the flights.

Following the news of the migrants’ deaths, Home Secretary James Cleverly said “these tragedies have to stop” and insisted the Government is doing “everything we can” to stop the boats.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the Rwanda scheme will “deter vulnerable migrants from making perilous crossings” and break the business model of the criminal gangs organising the boats.

In France, local local newspaper La Voix du Nord reported around 100 migrants who were rescued by the Francy navy from Tuesday morning’s crossing were being taken to Boulogne.

An emergency services spokesman said: ‘Weather conditions are good, and this is one of the reasons that so many small boats set off this morning.”

The government’s flagship immigration bill was passed by Parliament after the House of Lords withdrew its amendment to the legislation, conceding it must now “acknowledge the primacy of the elected house”.

Child among as at least five migrants die in attempt to cross English Channel just hours after Rwanda bill passed

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill wil see around 150 asylum seekers boarded on to flights to Kigali from July.

Charter planes are expected to leave for Rwanda in 10-12 weeks, with Mr Sunak promising “multiple flights a month”, although minsters conceded numbers being sent to Kigali will be small at first.

The cost of putting each migrant on a plane is expected to reach £11,000, while Rwanda will get £20,000 for each asylum seeker relocated there and a £120 million top-up once 300 have arrived.

Under the bill, Rwanda has been designated a safe country – but there are many human rights groups who say the programme will put refugees at risk, while others say it will have little impact on the number of boat crossings.

On the BBC, Illegal Migration Minister Mr Tomlinson took part in an uncomfortable interview by Ms Husain, as he refused her request to give details of the flights claiming it would help those trying to wreck the plans.

A clearly rattled Mr Tomlinson struggled to keep his composure as Ms Husain repeatedly interrupted him. At one point she said his arguments were “irrelevant”.

Accusing her of trying to stop him giving an explanation, he said: “You asked a question with an incredulous tone. I am trying to answer it. Then you interrupt me.”

The deaths come following a week of no recorded boat crossings by the Home Office – but follow a weekend earlier this month when 748 migrants arrived in Kent after crossing the English Channel.

Figures published by the government department showed there were 214 people brought ashore from five boats on 13 April, and 534 on 10 boats on 14 April – that brough the total number of migrants arriving in the UK in small boats to 6,265 for 2024.

The data does not include migrants who have failed to reach Britain.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We remain committed to building on the successes that saw arrivals drop by more than a third last year, including tougher legislation and agreements with international partners, in order to save lives and stop the boats.”

The Channel between France and Britain is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and currents are strong, making the crossing on small boats dangerous.

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