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5 migrants die, over 30 rescued trying to cross English Channel to UK in freezing cold

Five migrants died and a sixth was in critical condition on Sunday after trying to reach Britain from northern France in freezing temperatures, the French maritime authority said.

More than 30 people were rescued, the maritime prefecture said in a statement.

The fatalities were the first reported migrant deaths on the Channel in 2024.

Authorities said four migrants died overnight, while a fifth body was found later on the beach.

The group was attempting to reach a vessel off the resort town of Wimereux when their small boat got into difficulty around 2 AM (0100 GMT), the maritime prefecture said.

The crew of a French tow vessel, the Abeille Normandie, went to the rescue and spotted “unconscious and lifeless people” in the water, an official said, estimating the water temperature at nine degrees Celsius.

Along the Wimereux embankment an AFP journalist saw items of clothing and shoes abandoned by the migrants.

The survivors were taken to a shelter in Calais.

According to the maritime prefecture more than 30 were rescued, but one person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, had said around 70 migrants were brought in at around 3 AM, including “entire families with children, some of them very young”.

“Some of the survivors did not stay and told us they wanted to go to the Dunkirk train station to reach an accommodation centre in Armentieres,” the source added.

Authorities launched an investigation into “aggravated manslaughter” and other crimes, the Boulogne-sur-Mer public prosecutor’s office told AFP.

Autopsies would determine the cause of death, which may be due to “drowning” or “thermal shock”, prosecutors said.

Jean-Claude Lenoir, head of the Salam association, said migrants took huge risks by trying to board bigger vessels in the water in the current conditions.

Autopsies would determine the cause of death, which may be due to “drowning” or “thermal shock”, prosecutors said.

“Migrants want to get on board at all costs,” he told AFP. “They quickly fall victim to hypothermia or drowning.”

Twelve migrants lost their lives in 2023 trying to cross the Channel, according to the maritime prefecture.

The region around Calais, the jumping-off point for the shortest crossing to England, has long been a magnet for migrants.

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