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Moment ‘unconscious’ migrants are stretchered out of a white van in front of horrified tourists


Tourists have described the ‘horrendous’ scenes after migrants were pulled unconscious from the back of a white van that had been driven on board a ferry by suspected people traffickers.

Seven migrants, who appeared to be of Asian origin, were freed after the ferry’s security staff broke down a false wall in the back of the van that had been concealing them.

Workers on board ‘The Seven Sisters’ ferry heard banging coming from the van as they were preparing to dock at Newhaven port in Sussex after crossing the Channel from Dieppe. It is understood there were no fatalities.

Now, eyewitnesses have shared their reaction to the horrifying scenes as two men have been arrested in connection with the incident. 

‘It looked pretty horrendous,’ one person said who was driving to work. ‘Three of the men were totally unconscious They were on ambulance gurneys and paramedics were giving them oxygen.

A major incident is underway at Newhaven Ferry Harbour in East Sussex

A major incident is underway at Newhaven Ferry Harbour in East Sussex

‘They looked in a bad way. Paramedics were particularly concentrating on treating one individual – I couldn’t see if it was a man, woman or child.

‘Paramedics had wrapped them all in foil blankets. It looked really serious. I stopped because I saw a load of ambulances across the river at the port.

‘There was a huge commotion. Police were trying to cordon off the area but people were waiting to board the ferry sitting in their cars. It was crazy.’

He added that he saw five ‘walking wounded’ with foil blankets who were taken off by police and Border Force while three others were taken to hospital.

He said: ‘There were helicopters circling overhead and it seems the ferry was held at the port and not allowed to leave.’

By 2pm the incident had been cleared, passengers disembarked and all emergency services had left.

One rail worker said: ‘From where I work you couldn’t see a huge amount but it was clear there was something major happening.

‘Initially we thought loads of people had been found dead but thankfully they are alive. The emergency services responded really quickly and it was all brought to a close very rapidly.’

Video footage shows scores of police cars and ambulances at the scene, as well as a helicopter, with several people on stretchers being given critical care.

A family from France, who provided MailOnline with this footage, watched the incident unfold.

One man, who declined to be named, said: ‘The migrants appeared to have been lying down in a small section of the van.

‘They were hidden by a false wall that had been built into the back of the van. It was only a small space so they must have been practically lying on top of each other. It would have been very cramped and hard to breathe.

‘The reason they were found was that staff working on the ferry heard the migrants banging on the wall and the back of the van during a routine check of vehicles as we were about to dock.

The lorry arrived at the East Sussex port of Newhaven on a passenger ferry from Dieppe this morning and is still being examined on board the ship

The lorry arrived at the East Sussex port of Newhaven on a passenger ferry from Dieppe this morning and is still being examined on board the ship

The lorry arrived at the East Sussex port on passenger ferry 'The Seven Sisters'

The lorry arrived at the East Sussex port on passenger ferry ‘The Seven Sisters’ 

‘They summoned some other workers, who looked like security personnel and who then physically broke down the wall and let the migrants out. Some were unconscious and some were able to climb out the van with help.

‘The police and fire teams arrived soon after the ferry had docked and they took the seven or so migrants to an ambulance. They were put on stretchers and taken off the ferry one by one in oxygen masks.

‘The driver of the van and another man who I think was in the passenger seat were then arrested and taken away.’

Another eyewitness, who was driving to work, said: ‘It looked pretty horrendous. Three of the men were totally unconscious. They were on ambulance gurneys and paramedics were giving them oxygen.

‘They looked in a bad way. Paramedics were particularly concentrating on treating one individual – I couldn’t see if it was a man, woman or child.

‘Paramedics had wrapped them all in foil blankets. It looked really serious.’

‘Initially we thought loads of people had been found dead but thankfully they are alive. The emergency services responded really quickly and it was all brought to a close very rapidly.’

A Sussex Police spokesman said: ‘We are currently supporting Border Force, who are the leading agency, and other emergency services after a boat carrying a number of people arrived on Newhaven beach.

‘A man has been arrested on suspicion of facilitating illegal entry to the UK, and a second man has been arrested for illegally entering the UK.

Paul from the Fort Road Cafe in Newhaven said he saw the ferry dock and the emergency services board.

‘The ferry pulled up, the police, fire, ambulances and border force all turned up. They took four artics off first, then all the police and ambulances started going on.

‘Then the helicopter took somebody away. I saw ambulances trolleys coming off the ferry.

‘We see the ferry coming in every day. I saw three ambulance trolleys going up … Forensics are in there now.’

‘The ambulance service has taken six further people to hospital for treatment.’

Authorities in the UK were alerted before the ship arrived from France and emergency services were waiting on the dockside.

The drive on Ro-Ro ferry makes trips between Newhaven and Dieppe daily and takes around four hours on average.

The Home Office confirmed Border Force was involved in responding to the incident but said that while it was ongoing ‘it would be inappropriate to comment further’.

Responding to media reports about the incident, Lewes MP Maria Caulfield, whose constituency includes Newhaven, said in a post on X: ‘Very concerned about these reports.

Authorities in the UK were alerted before the ship arrived from France and emergency services were waiting on the dockside

Authorities in the UK were alerted before the ship arrived from France and emergency services were waiting on the dockside

‘From my office in Newhaven we can see lots of activity opposite at the port and thanks to the emergency services responding.’

A South East Coast Ambulance spokesman said: ‘We were called at 9.40am this morning to an incident at Newhaven Ferry Port. 

‘A range of ambulance resources have attended, including our HART (Hazardous Area Response Teams), alongside other emergency service partners.’

People trafficking into the UK has become a hot political topic in recent years.

Besides soaring numbers crossing the English Channel in small boats, smugglers have also used HGVs to hide migrants – at times with tragic results.

Christopher Gormley, 26, of Co Tyrone, was jailed for seven years in November last year for his role in a people-smuggling ring that led to the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants.

The Old Bailey heard Gormley was driven by ‘greed‘ when he plotted to bring foreign families into the UK from mainland Europe three times in October 2019.

One of the trips was scuppered by French border officials, with some migrants from that trip believed to have died days later in a fatal lorry run overnight on October 22-23 2019. 

The victims suffocated due to a lack of oxygen on the trip from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Purfleet, Essex, after the temperature inside reached a sweltering 38.5 degrees during their crossing. Their bodies were discovered in a refrigerated lorry trailer in Grays, Essex, on October 23 2019.

The victims suffocated due to a lack of oxygen on the journey after the temperature inside reached a sweltering 38.5 degrees during their crossing. Their bodies were discovered in a refrigerated lorry trailer in Grays, Essex, on October 23 2019.

Last month, a five-year-old girl was among migrants caught being smuggled out of Britain in the back of a HGV by a Russian lorry driver.

Nikolai Kuznetsov, 39, was found by UK Border Force officers to be carrying 22 migrants in his trailer, including the girl and her parents.

All of the migrants, who were of North African origin, were attempting to avoid French border controls.

Kuznetsov was arrested after his vehicle was stopped at Dover Docks on August 17 2023.

He was sentenced to four years and four months imprisonment after pleading guilty at the first opportunity to facilitating illegal entry to an EU member state.



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