At least three suspected human traffickers were detained tonight in France following the death of a seven-year-old girl who was on a migrant boat bound for the United Kingdom packed with children.
The deceased, who has not been identified, died at around 6.30am on Sunday after falling into the River Aa, at Watten, about 20 miles inland from Calais.
He was with his parents and four other adults who were waiting to take 10 children aged between seven and 13 to the English Channel and then to the UK to apply for asylum.
But the flimsy inflatable boat they were on collapsed within minutes, throwing everyone into the cold water about an hour before dawn.
None of those on board the stolen boat were wearing life jackets or carrying any type of life-saving equipment.
A file photo of a group of migrants in an inflatable boat as they attempt to cross the English Channel from the coast of northern France.
File photo of a group of immigrants traveling in a boat through the waters of the English Channel towards the southern coast of England.
Charlotte Huet, the Dunkirk prosecutor, said emergency workers pulled the seven-year-old girl from the water but she died “as a result of cardiopulmonary arrest.”
He was traveling with his pregnant mother and father, along with three brothers and sisters.
They were all treated by social services, along with the other six children, and arrests were made within a few hours.
Ms Huet confirmed that at least three suspected human traffickers were handcuffed and taken away by gendarmes.
The prosecutor said a criminal investigation had been opened for “homicide, causing unintentional injury, conspiracy to commit a crime and assisting illegal immigration within an organized gang, endangering others.”
He said that it has not yet been possible to confirm the identity of the people related to the case or their countries of origin.
The 16 people aboard the stricken ship hoped to avoid police patrols to enter the English Channel near the border with Belgium.
Border Force Hurricane escorts 60 migrants to Dover docks, Kent, on March 3
A group of migrants seen today walking back along a beach in Calais after a failed attempt to cross
“It is a route that human traffickers have already used,” said a source in the investigation. ‘On this occasion, the ship was overloaded and too weak to support the people on board, including women and children.
‘There was chaos on the water after the boat sank, resulting in a seven-year-old girl losing her life.
“Others were rescued and taken to a sports hall in Watten, where they are being questioned by police.”
The river As rises in the town of Bourthes and empties into the sea near Gravelines, near Dunkirk.
The news follows three migrants who went missing in thick fog and strong winds in the English Channel on Wednesday after their small boat bound for the UK capsized.
One was confirmed dead after his body was recovered, while two others are also believed to have drowned at sea.
Three bodies were reportedly pulled from the English Channel on Thursday. Pictured: A Border Force Defender escort in Dover
Dozens of migrants were brought ashore Thursday at the port of Dover after battling thick fog to cross the English Channel.
Despite the poor conditions, human traffickers took advantage of a short break in even harsher weather to expel multiple migrant boats from French shores.
The latest death also comes after five migrants died while trying to reach Britain on January 14.
Some 29,000 people arrived in the UK on small boats in 2023, despite the British government saying stopping them was a priority.
It is trying to press ahead with a plan to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda, even though the High Court in London ruled the policy illegal.
In August last year, six people died after a boat carrying migrants sank in the English Channel off the French coast.
And in November 2021, at least 27 migrants died after a boat sank while en route to the United Kingdom, the highest number of deaths recorded in a single incident.