At least 31 migrants die as boat from France to England capsizes: NPR

Dozens of migrants were killed and others injured when their boat capsized off Calais in the English Channel while trying to cross from France to England on Wednesday, authorities said. In this November 17 photo, French police officers patrol the beach in Wimereux, northern France, looking for migrants.

Louis Witter/AP


hide title

turn subtitle on/off

Louis Witter/AP


Dozens of migrants were killed and others injured when their boat capsized off Calais in the English Channel while trying to cross from France to England on Wednesday, authorities said. In this November 17 photo, French police officers patrol the beach in Wimereux, northern France, looking for migrants.

Louis Witter/AP

PARIS — At least 31 migrants bound for England on Wednesday died when their boat sank in the English Channel in what France’s interior minister has called the biggest tragedy for migrants in the dangerous crossing to date.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 34 people are believed to be on the boat. Authorities found 31 bodies and two survivors, including five women and a teenage girl. One person still seemed missing. The nationalities of the travelers were not immediately known.

Increasing numbers of people fleeing conflict or poverty are risking the perilous journey on a small, seaworthy ship from France, hoping to find asylum or better opportunities in England.

A joint Franco-British search operation for survivors was underway late Wednesday.

Investigation launched into suspected smugglers

Four suspected smugglers were arrested Wednesday on suspicion of being linked to the sunken boat, Darmanin told reporters in the French port city of Calais. He said two of the suspects were later referred to the courthouse.

After the sinking, the district attorney launched an investigation into deliberate murder, organized illegal immigration and other charges. Lille Prosecutor Carole Etienne, whose office oversaw the investigation, said authorities were still working to identify the victims and determine their age and nationality.

He said the investigation could cover more than one country as more information about the passengers emerges.

“To see these people die at sea is a great day of mourning for France, Europe and humanity,” said Darmanin.

He called for coordination with Britain, saying that “the response must also come from Great Britain”.

Drawing attention to other deadly incidents involving immigrants in the same waters, Darmanin attacked “criminal smugglers” who put thousands of people at risk.

France and Britain at odds over how to prevent crossings

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson convened the government’s crisis committee, and Darmanin rushed to see survivors in a Calais hospital.

The two governments have long disagreed on how to prevent crossings, and both sides blame the other for not doing enough.

Johnson said he was “shocked, horrified and deeply saddened”. He urged France to step up efforts to stem the flow of migrants through the English Channel, and said Wednesday’s incident showed that efforts by French authorities to patrol its beaches were “not sufficient”.

He reiterated that Britain wanted to work with the French to “break the business model” of gangsters.

“Our proposal is to increase our support, but also to work with our partners on the respective beaches in the departure areas of these boats,” Johnson told reporters. “We had a hard time convincing some of our partners, especially the French, to do what we think the situation deserves.”

A maritime authority spokesman said a French sea boat saw several bodies in the water around 2 pm and rescued an unknown number of dead and wounded, including some unconscious.

A French helicopter and a British helicopter joined three French patrol boats to search the area, according to the French maritime agency.

Jean-Marc Puissesseau, head of the ports of Calais and Boulogne, told the Associated Press that he spoke to one of the rescuers who brought some of the bodies to the port of Calais.

“Traders are assassins,” he said. “We expected something like this to happen”

It is rare for so many people to die on a boat, although occasional deaths have been reported in transit.

The number of boat passes increased sharply

Immigrants from around the world have long used northern France as a launching point to reach England, either by stowing them in trucks or in small boats and other small boats arranged by smugglers. People fleeing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea and Sudan are among those gathered in towns in northern France.

Despite the high risks worsening in the autumn weather, the number of migrants using small boats to cross the canal has risen sharply this year.

More than 25,700 people have made the perilous journey in small boats this year – three times the total for all of 2020.

With variable weather conditions, cold seas and heavy sea traffic, crossing is dangerous for inflatables and other small boats where men, women and children get stuck.

French and British authorities have taken thousands of migrants from both the French and British coasts in multiple rescue operations in recent weeks.

Darmanin insisted that France had worked hard to prevent crossings, saving 7,800 people since January and stopping 671 people trying to cross on Wednesday alone.

“We need to see how many more times people in the UK trying to reach safety die because of the lack of safe means to do it?” Tom Davies, campaign manager for refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International UK, said:
“We desperately need a new approach to asylum, including genuine Anglo-French efforts to design safe routes of asylum to prevent such tragedies from happening again,” he said.

Leave a Reply

x