LILLE: A seven-year-old girl drowned on Sunday when a small boat carrying 16 migrants heading from northern France to Britain capsized, the prefecture in France’s Nord department said.

The boat “was not appropriately sized to carry so many people,” the local authority said in a statement, causing it to capsize soon after people boarded in the Aa canal, a few kilometres from the waterway’s exit into the Channel.

The inland accident is the latest in a trend that has seen migrants aiming to get to Britain from France boarding boats away from the coast to avoid stepped-up surveillance there.

Police and firefighters rushed to the scene after a person out for a walk raised the alarm, the prefecture added.

The seven-year-old girl had died “on the spot of the effects of cardio-respiratory arrest,” prosecutors in Dunkirk told AFP, adding that rescuers’ attempts to resuscitate her had been “in vain”.

“Several people are in custody” over the incident, they added, with investigators probing possible charges including manslaughter, people-smuggling and forming a criminal gang.

The prefecture said the girl’s parents, who were travelling with three more of their children, were taken to a hospital in Dunkirk.

Prosecutors said 10 children, aged seven to 13, had been on the boat, with the prefecture identifying the other passengers as the girl’s parents, another couple and two young men. It alleged that the vessel was “apparently stolen”.

Migrant crossings of the English Channel remain a sore point between Britain and France.

British interior minister James Cleverly told AFP in January that the two countries would “expand upon” cooperation he said had proved successful, citing figures showing a 36 per cent reduction in crossings in 2023.

Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2024

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