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UK: Seven year-old among five dead in English Channel as Rwanda deportation bill passes

French authorities said the five people were among 112 who boarded a boat that capsized after it left Calais
A group disembarks from a dinghy at Le Portel beach, near Boulogne, after an unsuccessful attempt to cross the Channel from France, 2 October 2023 (Reuters)

A seven-year old girl is among five people who died in an attempt to cross the English Channel in a small boat south of Calais, according to French authorities.

The group were onboard a dinghy carrying 112 people that had departed from the town of Wimereux, south of Calais, at 5am on Tuesday, according to the prefect’s office in Pas-de-Calais.

Reportedly the boat capsized after hitting a sandbank. Survivors were discovered “unconscious and in a serious condition” inside the boat by rescuers. 

According to local official Jacques Billiant, emergency services rescued 47 people, with 57 people left aboard “not wishing to be rescued, they managed to restart the engine and continued their sea route, towards the UK, under surveillance by the navy.”

The news came hours after the UK parliament passed legislation that would allow the government to deport asylum seekers who arrive in the UK by irregular means to Rwanda.

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The Rwanda deportation bill, Rishi Sunak’s flagship policy, passed following a two-year battle between the Commons and the Lords, the upper and lower chambers of the British parliament.

UK parliamentary report says Rwanda legislation ‘incompatible’ with human rights obligations
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Crossbench peers, those unaffiliated with a party, were demanding amendments to the bill but relented on Monday, allowing it to pass unamended.

Sunak said the “tragic” incident was a “reminder of why my plan is so important because there’s a certain element of compassion about everything that we’re doing.

“We want to prevent people making these very dangerous crossings. If you look at what’s happening, criminal gangs are exploiting vulnerable people,” he said.

According to the Guardian, Home Office sources said they have already identified the first group of asylum seekers to be sent to Kigali.

In an open letter to Sunak, more than 250 organisations condemned the bill as “a shameful and performatively cruel law that will risk people's lives”, accusing the government of breaking international law.

“This bill does nothing to make Rwanda a safe country for refugees," Steve Smith, chief executive officer of Care4Calais, said in a statement. "All the problems with Rwanda’s asylum system, including, for example, the fact they haven’t granted refugee status to the single largest nationality claiming asylum in the UK, Afghans, remain.

“Politicians are playing fast and loose with the future of human beings, and it must be stopped.”

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