UK-bound migrants die after boat capsizes in Channel off Calais

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Paris: Twenty-seven people died after their dinghy capsized while crossing the Channel from France to Britain, in the worst disaster on record involving migrants in the waters separating the countries.
The Channel is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and currents are strong. Overloaded dinghies often barely stay afloat and are at the mercy of waves as they try to reach British shores.
French police officers patrol a beach in the search for migrants in northern France last week. More than 30 people died when a boat capsized on Wednesday.Credit:AP
More migrants left France’s northern shores than usual to take advantage of calm sea conditions on Wednesday (local time), according to fishermen, although the water was bitterly cold.
One fisherman called the rescue services after seeing an empty dinghy and people floating motionless nearby.
Franck Dhersin, deputy head of regional transport and mayor of Teteghem on the northern French coast, initially said that the death toll had reached 31 and that two people were still missing.
French authorities later revised the number down to 27, AFP reported.
The regional prosecutor opened an investigation into aggravated manslaughter after the sinking.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he was heading for the coast. “Strong emotion in the face of the tragedy of numerous deaths due to the capsizing of a migrant boat in the English Channel,” he wrote in a tweet.
“It’s a day of great mourning for France, for Europe, for humanity to see these people die at sea,” Darmanin said.
He called for coordination with the UK, saying “the response must also come from Great Britain”.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “shocked and appalled and deeply saddened by the loss of life that I see in the Channel”.
“My thoughts and sympathies are with the victims and their families, and it is in an appalling thing that they have suffered. But this disaster underscores how dangerous it is to cross the Channel in this way.”
Johnson will chair an emergency meeting on Wednesday, his spokesperson said.
Three helicopters and police and rescue boats were still at the scene, looking for people missing from the capsized vessel, said Maritime Minister Annick Girardin.
The local coast guard said they could not yet confirm the total number of deaths.
One fisherman, Nicolas Margolle, said he had seen two small dinghies earlier on Wednesday, one with people on board and another empty.
He said another fisherman had called rescue services after seeing an empty dinghy and 15 people floating motionless nearby, either unconscious or dead.
He confirmed there were more dinghies on Wednesday because the weather was good. “But it’s cold,” Margolle added.
Early on Wednesday, Reuters reporters saw a group of over 40 migrants head towards Britain on a dinghy.
While French police have prevented more crossings than in previous years, they have only partially stemmed the flow of migrants wanting to reach Britain – one of many sources of tensions between Paris and London.
Some rights groups said that tighter monitoring was pushing migrants to take greater risks as they sought a better life in the West.
“To accuse only the smugglers is to hide the responsibility of the French and British authorities,” l’Auberge des Migrants NGO said.
Before Wednesday’s disaster, 14 people had drowned this year trying to make it to Britain, a local maritime prefecture official said. In 2020, a total of seven people died and two disappeared, while in 2019 four died.
Reuters, AP
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