UK’s Channel deaths: Teenager describes chaos as boat launched


Marcus, not his real name, is nervous and twitchy as he sits by the harbour wall in Calais.

The 16-year-old was one of more than 100 people who on Tuesday tried to scramble aboard a small inflatable dinghy attempting to cross the Channel to the UK.

The BBC witnessed a chaotic and violent scene, as some migrants attacked others with sticks while the French police fired tear gas.

Despite the clashes, the boat still set sail.

Five people died, including a seven-year-old girl, after the overloaded vessel ran into trouble soon after.

Marcus had already travelled through Sudan and Libya, followed by a dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to Italy, to reach northern France for the attempted Channel crossing.

He says he fled a life as a child soldier in South Sudan and would have been killed if he’d stayed, pointing to a scar on his leg where he says he was shot.

The teenager’s final destination is the UK, where he aims to study political science.

However he old the BBC he decided against attempting the crossing on Tuesday, believing the boat to be too full and fearful of what might happen.

Authorities said the boat contained “an unprecedented 112 people on board”.

“There were too many people. they were crushed maybe. I didn’t see them die, I just wanted to save myself. Thirty or 40 guys were trying to force themselves on the boat because they did not pay the money,” he said.

French regional prefect Jacques Billant said the Abeille Normandie patrol boat was immediately deployed to rescue those who had set off on the boat. When they arrived, several people were “unconscious and in great difficulty”, he said.

Six people were taken aboard the patrol boat, before being taken to the beach to be treated by emergency services.

Another 47 people were rescued from the boat by French authorities, according to Mr Billant, but a further 55 remained on board as they did not wish to be rescued.

They were among a large group of migrants who arrived in Dover late on Tuesday.

On Friday, two males appeared in court charged with immigration offences, after an investigation into the deaths. A third person has been arrested.

Marcus, who says he paid people smugglers $1,000 to get on the boat he eventually decided against boarding, said he was willing to pay more to try again.

And he was not put off by the government’s plan to send some migrants entering the UK “illegally” to Rwanda to have their claims processed there.

“That will not stop me, I will never give up. I will try my best to cross the English channel,” he said.

As of 21 April this year, 6,265 people had crossed the English Channel in small boats since the start of 2024 – almost a quarter more when compared with the same period last year.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Tuesday’s “tragic” incident underscored the need to “prevent people making these very dangerous crossings”