At least 31 migrants to Britain die in the English Channel outside Calais, others are missing after the boat sank

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At least 31 migrants died after a boat capsized in the English Channel, off the coast of Calais, north France, on Wednesday, said French Interior Minister GĂ©rald Darmanin.

Darmanin spoke outside a hospital in Calais, saying five women and a little girl were among the dead.

Two people were rescued and one person is still missing, he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson both expressed horror at the tragedy and sent condolences to the families of the victims.

Fire trucks arrive at the port of Calais on Wednesday after at least 31 migrants died in their boat off the coast of Calais. (CNN)

Macron said his country would not allow the English Channel to become a cemetery and called on its European counterparts to step up their efforts to avoid future tragedies.

“To the families of the victims, to their loved ones, I would like to express my condolences and the unconditional support of France,” the President said in a statement.

“I assure them that everything will be done to find and condemn those responsible, networks of smugglers who exploit misery and distress, endanger human lives and ultimately decimate families,” he added.

Macron said France had been working with Britain for several months to dismantle smuggling networks.

French police patrol the beach in search of migrants in Wimereux, northern France. (AP)

“Since the beginning of 2021, thanks to the mobilization of 600 police and gendarmes, 1,552 smugglers have been arrested on the north coast and 44 smuggling networks have been dismantled,” he said.

“Despite this operation, 47,000 attempts to cross into the UK have been made since January 1, with 7,800 migrants rescued by our rescue services.”

France’s regional maritime prefecture previously said a search and rescue operation for survivors was taking place in the Pas-de-Calais Strait and described it as the worst accident ever on the waterfront.

The country’s navy minister Annick Girardin said French, British and Belgian helicopters were looking for the missing ones.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex described the incident as a “tragedy”.

“My thoughts are with the many missing and injured, victims of criminal smugglers who are taking advantage of their plight and misery,” he said in a tweet.

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson said he was “shocked and appalled and deeply saddened by the loss of life at sea”.

“My thoughts and sympathies are first and foremost with the victims and their families, and it is a terrible thing that they have suffered,” Johnson told reporters.

“But I also want to say that this disaster underlines how dangerous it is to cross the canal in this way.

A boat from a French voluntary sea rescue organization, Societe Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer, arrives at the port of Calais on Wednesday with bodies of migrants. (CNN)

“And it also shows how important it is that we now increase our efforts to break the business model of the gangsters who send people to sea in this way, and that is why it is so important that we accelerate if we possibly can all the measures that are within our borders … so that we distinguish between people who come here legally and people who come here illegally. “

He added that the authorities would “leave no stone unturned in the business proposal from the human traffickers and gangsters … who are literally getting away with murder”.

Johnson said it was time for Britain, France and Europe to “step up” and work together. He was to chair a meeting of Cobra’s crisis committee in response to the tragedy, his spokesman said.

Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a statement that the tragedy “serves as the sharpest possible reminder of the dangers of these canal crossings organized by ruthless criminal gangs”.

She added: “We will continue to intensify all cooperation with France and other European partners to prevent migrants from embarking on these deadly journeys.”

On Monday, France’s Interior Ministry announced it was sending equipment and vehicles worth more than 11 million euros ($ 17 million) as part of a deal with Britain, “to secure the coastal strip that stretches more than 130 km, from Dunkirk to the Gulf of Somme”. “.

It added that “the police and gendarmes will have additional resources to carry out the task of combating illegal immigration”.

Last week, 243 people were rescued in the English Channel when they tried to cross into Britain.

So far this year, more than 25,700 people have crossed the English Channel to the UK in small boats, according to data compiled by the British news agency PA Media.

That is three times the total number for the whole of 2020, reports PA.

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