English Channel special: The narrow but treacherous crossing that continues to claim lives

Migrants Attempt Final Channel Crossings Ahead Of Weather Change

On a clear day the White Cliffs of Dover can be glimpsed from the sandy beaches of Calais, just 21 miles away across the dangerous waters of the English Channel.

It is here where tens of thousands of people from all over the world have risked death to cross over to the UK aboard dinghies, kayaks and other small boats.

But the perilous sea journey has claimed many lives, leading to outpourings of grief and repeated promises of action from governments on both sides of the Channel.

A stone’s throw from the docks where migrants bundled up in blankets against the cold are brought ashore in Dover, there is a quiet memorial to those who have lost their lives seeking sanctuary in the UK.

The dangers of crossing the Channel were again laid bare this week as hundreds more people, including very young children, made the dangerous Channel crossing to the UK.

Adults carrying youngsters and others wrapped in blankets were seen arriving on the south-east coast of England last weekend with help from lifeboat crews.

And only yesterday, a migrant boat capsized causing the loss of dozens of lives. The French regional maritime authority said 27 people had died, causing shock and horror on both sides of the English Channel.

The dead included five women and a girl while two survivors had been picked up and were being treated in a French hospital. One of the dead women was later reported to have been pregnant.

Nearly there: The White cliffs of Dover

Worst incident of its kind

Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to President Emmanuel Macron yesterday evening in the wake of the worst incident of its kind since the current migrant influx began.

But those who follow the crisis unfolding are hardly surprised.

Last weekend French officials said 243 people in difficulty were recovered and brought to safety at the ports of Boulogne-sur-Mer, Dunkirk and Calais.

More than 24,700 people have arrived in the UK so far this year after making the Channel crossing in small boats – almost three times the number there were in 2020.

This includes at least 1,247 who arrived since Monday alone, according to data compiled by various agencies. This number is set to rise as the exact figure for Tuesday is still being finalised by the Home Office.

The arrivals came as it was reported asylum seekers will have to obey strict rules in new centres or face their claims being rejected under plans advocated by Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Kevin Saunders, former chief immigration officer for the UK Border Force, argued that people who arrive in the UK via the Channel need to be processed offshore.

He told Times Radio: “The most effective way would be to take all the people who have arrived in the UK to an offshore processing centre and deal with it offshore.

“That is the only way you will stop people from coming into the UK. We’ve seen trying to do it with the French on land, on the Channel, nothing works.”

Asked why it had to be offshore, he said: “People will still come to the UK, because they know we are not going to be able to remove them from the United Kingdom when their asylum claim fails.”

He said only a small number of people had been removed this year and described the UK as “just too attractive” for people, adding: “They know that once they’re in the UK they’ve won the jackpot.”

Migrants Continue To Arrive Across the English Channel
Migrants are being offloaded in Calais

The Home Secretary has been impressed with centres being built in Greece, where migrants were put under strict curfews and faced routine checks on their movements, the Daily Telegraph reported.

A UK government source was recently quoted by The Telegraph saying if migrants breached new rules, their asylum claim could be impacted.

The Times reported that Boris Johnson had drafted in Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay to oversee the issue of the rising number of migrants arriving on Britain’s shores.

The newspaper said that the PM was “exasperated” with the situation following a number of strategies to stem the flow. The move to bring in Barclay could be seen as an admission that Ms Patel has not managed to tackle the issue.

Meanwhile, Sir Keir Starmer accused Patel of failing to deliver on promises to stem the flow of illegal migrants crossing the Channel. The Labour leader said she had not secured strong enough agreements with the French government to prevent migrants making the dangerous sea journey.

He said the Home Secretary repeatedly used “strong language” to say how she would tackle the problem, but delivered “absolutely nothing”.

They had set out in a desperate attempt to reach England, a journey which had deadly consequences.

Charities described the latest tragedy as a “sobering reminder” of the struggles faced by refugees and called on Home Secretary Priti Patel to change her strategy.

Since the beginning of 2019, more than a dozen people have died or gone missing while trying to cross the English Channel in small boats.

They are among about 300 border-related deaths in and around the English Channel since 1999, according to a report by the Institute of Race Relations, the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal London steering group and French group Gisti.

Migrants Crossing English Channel Intercepted By UK Border Force

This Summer

On 27 August, a 27-year-old man from Eritrea died after he and four others jumped overboard as their boat started to sink in the English Channel.

His 22-year-old girlfriend watched as he entered the water before she was later rescued, a French migrant help organisation has said.

After being returned to port in Dunkirk, she later discovered that her boyfriend had died after being taken to hospital.

Around 36 people were aboard the boat trying to cross to the UK when it got into difficulty amid strong seas in the Dover Strait, prompting a huge emergency response.

Meanwhile, on 2 March three people suffering from hypothermia were taken to hospital after their boat was reported to have capsized in the English Channel.

Firefighters aided two Sudanese nationals who reported that three or four people had been aboard their vessel. A search and rescue operation was launched to try to find any other survivors and the third person was discovered close to the port of Calais.

Searches at sea for a possible fourth person continued but to no avail.

Last year

Tragedy struck again in the Dover Strait in late October 2020, when a migrant boat sank off the coast of France claiming seven lives, including five from a Kurdish-Iranian family.

Three young children, including a fifteen-month-old baby, along with their parents, died, while two other adults are also believed to have lost their lives.

The family were named as Rasoul Iran-Nejad, 35, Shiva Mohammad Panahi, 35, Anita, nine, Armin, six, and Artin, 15 months. They were from a village near the Iranian Kurdish city of Sardasht, West Azerbaijan province, northwest of Iran.

They attempted to move from France to the UK on a train twice, but both attempts failed, after which they then decided to reach the UK by sea. The incident is believed to be the single biggest loss of life during the current migrant crisis.

Migrants Cross English Channel From France

Earlier the same month the body of a man was found on a beach near Sangatte outside Calais, at about 8am on October 18.

The prosecutor of the nearby town of Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pascal Marconville, said it was likely the man had drowned trying to make the crossing and that his body had washed up on the shore just a few hours later. It is believed he was aged between 20 and 40 and was possibly Iranian.

In August 2020, the body of Abdulfatah Hamdallah was found on Sangatte beach, just outside Calais.

It followed a search and rescue effort launched after a migrant, suffering from hypothermia, said his makeshift boat had capsized at sea and his companion, who could not swim, was missing and may still be in the water. The Sudanese man, thought to be in his 20s, drowned.

Believed to be from west Kordofan, Sudan, he is reported to have fled his country in 2014 and spent at least two years in Libya before reaching Europe.


On 14 October 2019, the bodies of two Iraqi Kurds were found on a beach in Le Touquet, along the coast from Calais.

Hussein Mofaq Hussein, 22, and Soran Jamal Jalal, 17, are thought to have drowned after falling into the water during an attempt to cross the English Channel in a small boat.

Meanwhile, on 18 August 20219, the body of 47-year-old Iraqi Niknam Massoud was discovered on August 23 in the water of the Thorntonback wind farm, off the coast of Belgium, wearing one flipper and a life-jacket made from a rucksack filled with empty plastic bottles.

He is thought to have left Calais to swim to the UK five days earlier, after having been reportedly denied asylum in Germany after missing a registration deadline.

Nine days earlier, Mitra Mehrad, a 31-year-old Iranian national described by her family as a “brilliant, intelligent woman who wanted to start a new life”, drowned in the Channel while trying to reach the UK on a dinghy with 19 others.

Rescue teams were sent to assist the dinghy in distress and her body was later found in Dutch waters: like so many before and after her, she had drowned.


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