French authorities dealing with small boat incident in the English Channel

French authorities are dealing with an “incident” in the English Channel, the UK Government has confirmed, involving a small boat thought to have been carrying asylum seekers looking to reach Britain.

A report by the i suggests that as many as three people may have died while the vessel was still in French waters.

The newspaper reported that migrants who were attempting to reach Britain fell into the sea on Wednesday off the coast of Cap Gris-Nez, located west of Calais.

Citing French authorities, the report said 180 people were pulled to safety by rescue operators.

One person was recovered unconscious and could not be resuscitated by the crew, with two others missing, the report said.

A UK Government spokesman said: “We can confirm there has been an incident in the Channel involving a small boat in French waters.

“French authorities are leading the response and investigation. We will not be commenting further at this stage.”

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “Our thoughts go out to the families of those affected by the tragic loss of life in the English Channel this afternoon and to all those who valiantly answered the distress call.

“This is yet another avoidable human tragedy.

“Men, women and children from countries such as Afghanistan are risking their lives in the Channel as a direct consequence of safe routes being so limited and ineffective.

“There will be more deaths unless the Government rethinks its approach.

“Instead of the unlawful and costly Rwanda plan, we need a plan to provide sanctuary for those fleeing persecution, violence and torture without having to take dangerous journeys by expanding options for family reunion, introducing refugee visas and putting in place an agreement with the French government to give people a fair hearing and treat them with dignity and humanity.”

This week, Home Office figures showed that more than 2,000 migrants have arrived in the UK so far this year after crossing the strait between England and France.

The number of Channel arrivals is 32% lower than the total recorded this time last year (2,953) but 49% higher than the total at this stage in 2022 (1,482).

Some 29,437 migrants arrived in the UK after making the crossing in 2023, down 36% on a record 45,774 arrivals in 2022.

The Home Office said there were no new arrivals on Tuesday or Monday this week, but 290 asylum seekers arrived across five boats on Sunday.

Home Secretary James Cleverly was in the US this week where he made a speech focused on tackling unauthorised migration.

During the address in New York, the Conservative Cabinet minister said the UK’s goodwill towards migrants was “not a bottomless font” as he argued wealthy nations must help developing ones avoid “haemorrhaging” people.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made stopping the boats one of his top five pledges to the electorate in January last year.