At least 31 migrants bound for Britain died on Wednesday when their boat sank in the English Channel, in what France’s interior minister called the biggest migration tragedy ever at the dangerous crossing.
Interior Minister Gerald Dormann said 34 people were believed to be on the boat. He said officials found 31 bodies, including the bodies of five women and a young girl, and two survivors. It seemed that one person was still missing. The nationalities of the passengers were not immediately known.
The regional maritime authority overseeing the rescue operations later said 27 bodies had been found, two people survived and four others were missing and believed to have drowned. The discrepancy in numbers was not immediately clarified.
There has been an ever-increasing number of people fleeing conflict or poverty in Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, Eritrea or elsewhere, arriving from France on small, unseaworthy ships hoping to find refuge or better opportunities in Britain. risking a dangerous journey. The crossing has tripled this year compared to 2020, and on Wednesday alone another 106 migrants were rescued in French waters.
A joint French-British search operation for those who drowned was called off late Wednesday. The two countries cooperate to stop migration across the channel, but also accuse each other of not doing enough – and the issue is often used by politicians on both sides to advance an anti-migration agenda. is done.
Darmanin told reporters in the French port city of Calais that four suspected smugglers suspected of being linked to the sunken boat were arrested on Wednesday. Later, two suspects were produced in the court, he said.
The regional prosecutor launched an investigation into grievous murder, organized illegal migration and other charges after the drowning. Lille prosecutor Carol Etienne told The Associated Press that officials were still working to identify the victims and determine their age and nationality, and that the investigation could involve multiple countries.
“It is a day of great mourning for France, for Europe, for humanity to see these people die at sea,” Dormanin said. They attacked thousands of driving “criminal smugglers” to risk the crossing.
Demonstration against the apathy of the government
Activists demonstrated outside the port of Kailash on Wednesday night, accusing governments of not doing enough to meet the needs of migrants. Despite regular police patrols and evacuation operations, hundreds of people live in precarious conditions along the French coast.
Jean-Marc Puisseau, chief of the ports of Calais and Boulogne, told The AP that the bodies were brought to the port of Calais. “We were waiting for something like this to happen,” he said, noting the increasing number of people risking the route.
Aid groups blamed European governments for increasingly harsh migration policies. “The UK is not an option, it is an escape, an escape for people fleeing a lack of welcome in Europe,” said Nicolai Posner of the French charity Utopia 56.
“The response must also come from Great Britain,” Dormann called for coordination with the UK.
Johnson’s office said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke after Wednesday’s tragedy and agreed that “all options are available to prevent these deadly crossings and to break the business model of the criminal gangs behind them.” It’s important to put it on the table.”
Downing Street said the two leaders “underlined the importance of working closely with neighbors in Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as partners across the continent if we are to effectively tackle the problem before people reach the French coast.” want.”
Macron stressed the “shared responsibility” of France and the UK and told Johnson that he expected full cooperation from the British and did not use the tragic situation “for political purposes”, Elysee said.
The French government is holding an emergency meeting on Thursday morning to discuss next steps. Macron advocated an urgent funding boost for the EU border agency, Frontex and an emergency meeting of European government ministers, according to his office. Macron said, ‘France will not allow the channel to become a cemetery.
Johnson called a meeting of the government’s crisis committee, and said he was “shocked, shocked and deeply saddened.”
He urged France to step up efforts to stem the flow of migrants, and said Wednesday’s incident highlighted how efforts by French authorities to patrol their beaches “are not enough.”
“We have had difficulty persuading some of our partners, especially the French, to act in a way that we think the situation deserves,” he told reporters.
Dormanin stressed that France had worked hard to stop the crossing, having rescued 7,800 people since January and stopped 671 people trying to cross on Wednesday alone.
Migrant crossing triple in 2021
A maritime authority spokesman said a French naval boat found several bodies in the water around 2 p.m. and rescue boats pulled several dead and wounded from the surrounding waters. French patrol boats, a French helicopter and a British helicopter searched the area.
So far this year, more than 25,700 people have taken such dangerous boat trips – tripling the total for the whole of 2020. With the changing weather, cold seas and heavy sea traffic, the crossing is dangerous for inflatables and other small boats that men, women and children squeeze into.
Migrants around the world have long used northern France as a launching point to reach Britain by depositing it in trucks or using dinghies and other small boats organized by smugglers. Many people want to reach the UK in search of economic opportunities or because of family and community ties, or because their attempts to seek asylum in the European Union have failed. French officials say another major draw is the easing of British rules against migrants without residency papers.
The total number of people applying for asylum in the UK is slightly lower than last year, and the UK receives far fewer asylum seekers than comparable European countries such as Germany or France.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says an estimated 1,600 people have died or disappeared in the Mediterranean this year trying to reach Europe from North Africa or Turkey. Hundreds more have died in the Atlantic Ocean off West Africa on the migrant route to Spain’s Canary Islands.
“How often should we see people lose their lives in Britain because of a lack of safe means of protection?” Amnesty International UK’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Campaign Manager Tom Davies said.
“We are in dire need of a new approach to asylum, which includes genuine Anglo-French efforts to create safe asylum routes to avoid such tragedies again,” he said.