Teenager charged after refugee boat capsizes in English Channel

The 19-year-old was charged with abetting illegal immigration after four people died while trying to cross the Channel.

A teenager has been charged with abetting so-called illegal immigration after a boat packed with asylum seekers capsized in the English Channel, leaving four dead, United Kingdom police have said.

The 19-year-old was charged, police said on Sunday, after four people died trying to cross the Channel between Britain and France when the inflatable boat they were in started to sink.

The boat got into trouble in freezing temperatures early on Wednesday, sparking a rescue operation by a fishing boat, the UK’s coast guard and other emergency responders.

One of those who died was a teenager, Kent Police said.

Thirty-nine refugees and migrants, including 12 children, were rescued by a UK-flagged fishing boat, with some people clinging to a rope before being hauled onto the vessel.

Ibrahima Bah, 19, is in custody and will appear in court in the southern coastal town of Folkestone on Monday, Kent Police said.

He faces a charge of facilitating attempted “illegal entry” to the UK, police added.

Images taken from on board the fishing boat on Wednesday showed a partially deflated dinghy as a number of people, some wearing life vests, clung to the side of the vessel.

The Kent County Council said it had taken 12 children who were on the dinghy into care.

The sinking came just over a year after at least 27 people died in the Channel.

In November 2021, at least 17 men, seven women and three children died as their dinghy deflated after setting off from France. Two people survived.

A higher death toll appears to have been averted on Wednesday largely because of the crew of the fishing trawler Arcturus, who discovered the dozens of asylum seekers clinging to the stricken inflatable vessel.

The crew are believed to have saved 31 of the 39 people rescued, Reuters news agency reported.

The UK government blames such incidents on criminal people-smuggling gangs who charge refugees and migrants several thousand dollars for the passage but pack them onto flimsy boats with little regard for their safety.

In a joint statement issued on 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 UK government is trying to pass new laws to prevent the record numbers of refugees and migrants from attempting the Channel crossing, including making any such arrivals inadmissible for asylum claims.

But rights groups and refugee experts say government policies restricting asylum and tighter surveillance are pushing people to take more risks.

“What happened in the Channel this morning is a tragedy of this government’s own making,” Freedom from Torture, a charity, said on Twitter. “How many people have to lose their lives before this government starts treating refugees like human beings?” it asked.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies