A boat of migrants bound for Britain capsized in the English Channel in what has been called the “greatest tragedy” involving immigration in the crossing.
The boat, which took off from France, had 34 people on board when it capsized in the dangerous crossing. According to the Associated Press, a French naval vessel had spotted bodies in the water of both dead victims and injured survivors. So far 31 people had died, two survived and one passenger is still missing.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin visited survivors in a Calais hospital, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “shocked, appalled and deeply saddened” by the tragedy. The AP also said Johnson had convened a crisis committee meeting to determine what to do next.
The English Channel is considered one of the most dangerous ocean crossings in the world, while it is also regularly recommended by people smugglers. More than 25,700 people had crossed the English Channel this year – more than three times than in all of 2020. Not everyone is able to make it to the British coast, however; authorities have rescued thousands of immigrants on rescue missions in recent weeks.
“How often do we have to see people lose their lives trying to achieve safety in the UK because of the pitiful lack of safe means to do so?” said Tom Davies of Amnesty International UK. He is the campaign manager for the organization for refugee and migrant rights.
“We urgently need a new approach to asylum,” he continued, “including genuine Anglo-French efforts to devise safe asylum routes to prevent such tragedies from happening again.”
The identity and nationality of the passengers on board have not been released.
See below for more coverage from The Associated Press.
Another joint Franco-British operation was underway on Wednesday evening to search for survivors.
While the incident was the deadliest day in the canal to date, Darmanin noted other deadly incidents in the past and lashed out at “criminal traffickers” who led thousands to risk the crossing.
The two governments have long disagreed on how to prevent the increasingly dangerous crossing of migrants, with both sides blaming the other for not doing enough.
Three French patrol boats were joined by a French helicopter and a British helicopter in the search of the area, the French maritime agency for the region said.
Jean-Marc Puissesseau, chief of the ports of Calais and Boulogne, told the Associated Press that he spoke to one of the rescuers who took some of the bodies to the port of Calais.
“Traffickers are killers,” he said. “We were waiting for something like this to happen.”
Although deaths are occasionally reported on the crossing, such a large number of people dying in one boat is rare.
People fleeing the conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea and Sudan were among those who gathered past towns in northern France looking to cross to Britain.
“Strong emotion after the drama of countless deaths in the sinking of a boat carrying migrants in the canal,” Darmanin tweeted. He denounced networks of migrant smugglers who organize such trips.
The Dunkirk prosecutor’s office said it has opened an investigation into aggravated manslaughter in the aftermath of the tragedy.
With changeable weather, cold seas and heavy maritime traffic, the crossing is dangerous for the inflatables and other small boats that men, women and children squeeze into.
Johnson said more needs to be done to “break the business model of the gangsters who send people out to sea in this way”.