Update, Friday 21st August 2020: The Sudanese refugee who drowned trying to reach the UK has been named as Abdulfatah Hamdallah. While a French minister had initially said that Hamdallah was 16, documents found on his body say he was born in 1992, making him 28 at the time of death. He decided to try to reach the UK after France rejected his asylum claim, his brother told the Guardian. Tributes have flooded Hamdallah’s Facebook profile since his death was announced on Wednesday.
The British government is facing renewed calls to offer safe passage for migrants after the “completely avoidable” death of a 16-year-old Sudanese boy, who drowned trying to reach the UK.
France’s citizenship minister, Marlène Schiappa, made the announcement on Twitter, writing: “A 16-year-old Sudanese migrant who disappeared at sea last night has been found dead on Sangatte beach this morning.”
“This unbearable tragedy moves us even more with [French interior minister] Gérald Darmanin against smugglers who take advantage of the distress of human beings.”
British Home Secretary Priti Patel called the death “an upsetting and tragic loss of a young life”.
“This horrendous incident serves as a brutal reminder of the abhorrent criminal gangs and people smugglers who exploit vulnerable people,” she wrote on Twitter. “Working together we are determined to stop them.”
However, charities that work with refugees blasted the government’s response to refugees attempting to reach the UK.
The Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN), which offers help to young refugees, said in a statement: “We are devastated to learn of the death of a 16-year-old boy in Sangatte. This death was completely avoidable. Along with many other migrant and refugee organisations we have been calling for safe passage for some time now. Meanwhile, the government’s response has been both chaotic and callous, and utterly against the proud British tradition of offering refuge to those in need.
“The government needs to step up to its humanitarian responsibility immediately and ensure safe and legal passage so that we avoid any more unnecessary deaths,” the statement said.
Care4Calais, a charity helping refugees in northern France, tweeted: “This boy's death starkly demonstrates the total failure of our government to do anything to help these desperate children… We knew this would happen, and now it has. Things need to change. We need a way for people's asylum claims to be fairly heard without them having to risk their lives. We need this before someone else dies.”
In November, the government was warned in an official report by MPs that, “A policy that focuses exclusively on closing borders will drive migrants to take more dangerous routes, and push them into the hands of criminal groups.”
The number of migrants crossing the Channel has risen in recent months as people take advantage of the warm weather to make the crossing; 1,265 have landed this month.
The Sudanese boy is one of many migrants to have died trying to reach the UK. In October of last year, Priti Patel said she was “shocked and saddened” after 39 migrants died in a refrigerated lorry in Essex.