5 migrants, including child, die in English Channel crossing hours after UK passes controversial deportation bill

Five migrants including a child died while attempting to cross the English Channel, French authorities said. The news comes hours after the UK passed a controversial bill that would allow the government to deport some migrants who enter the country illegally to Rwanda.

The deaths took place after an overcrowded boat carrying around 110 people set out to cross the busy shipping lane from France to England. French rescue ships responded and picked up 47 people and “another 57 people stayed on board,” local prefect Jacques Billant said. “They did not want to be rescued, they managed to restart the engine and headed towards Britain.”

The boat had left from Wimereux, southwest of France’s Calais. The French coastguard is searching for any survivors.

The passage of the bill comes nearly two years after the plan was first introduced by Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson in April 2022, and has been a priority of Rishi Sunak’s government. Sunak has pledged the first flights will take off to Rwanda “in 10 to 12 weeks.”

In 2022, 46,000 migrants crossed into the U.K. via dangerous small boats from mainland Europe, compared to just 299 boat crossings in 2018. Since 2014, over 240 migrants have either died or gone missing while attempting to cross the English channel, according to reports.

Human rights groups have warned that deportations to Rwanda could pose grave danger to asylum seekers because, “Once enacted, it will restrict the U.K. courts from properly scrutinizing removal decisions, leaving asylum-seekers with limited room to appeal even if they face significant risks,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in a statement.

The British government has insisted that Rwanda is a safe country for migrants, and that the legislation is needed in order to deter migrants from making dangerous channel crossings.

“Under the Treaty, Rwanda has also introduced a strengthened end-to-end asylum system, including a new, specialist asylum appeals tribunal to consider individual appeals against any refused claims,” says.

As part of the agreement, the Rwandan government will receive an initial payment of £120 million from the UK in 2023, and is expecting the total to reach at least £350 million over the course of five years. The UK will also pay an additional £150 million if more than 300 people are sent to Rwanda, and an additional £25,000 for each individual deported to the country.

Rights groups insist that the only way to deter crossings is to open more safe passages. “Instead of hostile, headline-grabbing legislation, we need to see safe routes for those fleeing conflict and persecution, including more options for family reunion, refugee visas, and cooperation with our European neighbors,” Enver Solomon, chief executive of Refugee Council, told the Guardian.