Father saw his daughter die on migrant dinghy... before it carried on to UK

An overloaded migrant dinghy is seen in French waters soon after five people had died on a boat near Wimeraux
An overloaded migrant dinghy is seen in French waters soon after five people had died on a boat near Wimeraux - Steve Finn

A father watched his seven-year-old daughter being crushed to death in a stampede on board on an overloaded inflatable migrant boat setting off across the Channel from France.

Incredibly, after her body and those of the four other people who died were taken back to the French shore, the boat began its journey again.

Just as the father had witnessed his own daughter’s death, the French navy watched the dinghy set sail a second time, not stopping it from making the dangerous crossing to Britain.

More than half those on board declined the French navy’s offer to be rescued, and instead made their way to the UK.

A few hours after Rishi Sunak had secured his Rwanda Bill, the scale of the migrant boat crisis was all too clear. Five death had not been a deterrent. Nor had the attention of the French authorities, who had watched as the boat set off for a second time.

About six hours later, more than 50 of the migrants had made it to Dover, having been picked up in English waters by an RNLI lifeboat.

It was a little after 6am on Tuesday when the flimsy boat, with more than 112 people on board, was launched close to the fishing village of  Wimereux, about three miles north of Boulogne. Normally, such boats take as many as 60 passengers at a time. But it appeared two different groups had clambered into the one craft.

Its departure was witnessed by a BBC TV news crew. Andrew Harding, a BBC correspondent, watched flares and fire crackers being thrown at the French police to keep them at bay. The authorities kept their distance.

Harding, writing on the BBC website, described the scene as it “turned suddenly violent”, skirmishes breaking out, accompanied by “loud explosions and white smoke” that “drifted across the beach”.

He watched as the crowd “clustered” around the inflatable boat “to protect it from the police”, with “at least two men… wielding large sticks or rods and appearing to threaten the police with them”.

Within two minutes, he said, “the boat was in shallow water and people started to clamber aboard”.

A police officer at the scene told Harding: “What else could we do?” as he watched it launch, explaining that officers are prohibited from following the migrants into the sea.

Migrants speaking to journalists said police punctured almost all the boats seeking to cross the Channel that morning, either before they had left the shore or within walking distance of the shore.

But they do not do so once a vessel is out of depth, for fear of endangering the lives of those on board.

Within half an hour, the engine had cut out, the overloaded boat seemingly stuck on a sand bank. Two people fell from the vessel and panic took hold. Five of the asylum seekers – three men, one woman and the seven-year-old girl – were trampled or crushed to death.

The girl’s father, who is Kurdish, watched her die, according to charity workers who found him on the beach at Wimereux.

“He was in tears. We know him well because we often see him here. These are people who have tried to cross several times,” an aid worker told La Voix du Nord, a local newspaper.

“We have photos of her with a big smile on her face in the hope of a better life. But now it’s all over. The father fell into our arms just now. He’s crying, in a daze. He saw his little daughter die in front of his eyes.”

The local prefect said 112 people in a single boat had “never been seen before”, a sign of the increasing desperation of migrants to reach the UK.

A French patrol boat sent to rescue the migrants found “several people” who were unconscious and taken back to the shore at Wimereux to be treated by emergency services. Despite attempts to resuscitate them, five died, said Jacques Billant, the Pas-de-Calais prefect.

According to authorities, 58 people who were still in the inflatable remained on board, refusing the offer of the French patrol boat to rescue them. A further 49 agreed to go back to Boulogne.

“They managed to restart the engine and decided to continue their sea route towards Great Britain under the surveillance of course of the French Navy,” said Mr Billant.

By 11.30am, the boat had made it into English waters, where a lifeboat intercepted it and rescued the survivors. By 1pm, the lifeboat had made it into safe harbour.

Tuesday’s tragedy shines a light on the French interpretation of maritime law which means they will not intervene to stop or turn back the migrants at sea unless they request assistance because of risk to life.

When the dinghy set off at 6am from the French coast, the conditions had been good. Several dozen boats carrying migrants were reported to have left the beaches around Calais as people smugglers exploited low winds and the relative calm of the sea.

Rishi Sunak, speaking on a flight to Poland, said the deaths “underscores why you need a deterrent”. He added: “This is what tragically happens when they push people out to sea and that’s why, for matters of compassion more than anything else, we must actually break this business model and end this unfairness of people coming to our country illegally.”

Amnesty International said the deaths showed that the Rwanda scheme “won’t save lives” while in Wimereux, local politicians were blaming the UK.

Jean-Luc Dubaele, the town’s mayor, said: “It’s all because of the English. Why do migrants want to go to England? It’s because they’re welcomed there. They are offered a bank account, a contract of employment... The English pay us to stop them crossing, but they welcome them.”