French police and a local official said that when their boat sank on the northern coast of Calais, at least 27 refugees and immigrants died while trying to cross the English Channel from France to the UK.
Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart told BFM TV on Wednesday that the death toll was 27. A few minutes later, another mayor set the number at 24. French police said at least 27 people were killed.
The International Organization for Migration, a United Nations agency, described the incident as the largest single loss of life in the strait since data collection began in 2014.
According to fishermen, more refugees and migrants left the northern coast of France on Wednesday to take advantage of calm sea conditions, despite the very cold waters. A fisherman called the rescue service after seeing an empty boat and a motionless person floating nearby.
Local authorities said that three ships and three helicopters have been deployed to participate in the search.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said in a tweet: “The tragedy of several deaths caused by the capsizing of a migrant ship in the English Channel triggered a strong emotional response.”
“We can’t overstate the criminal nature of the smugglers who organize these border crossings. I’m going to the scene.”
French Prime Minister Jean Castex called the ship’s capsizing a “tragedy.”
He said on Twitter: “My heart is with many missing and injured people. They are victims of criminal smugglers. They take advantage of their pain and suffering.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said after chairing the government’s emergency committee meeting on border crossings that he was “shocked, shocked and saddened by the loss of life”.
“My thoughts and sympathy are for the victims and their families. The suffering they have suffered is shocking. But this disaster highlights how dangerous it is to cross the English Channel in this way,” he added.
Johnson asserted that his government will “spare no effort to destroy the commercial claims of human traffickers and gangs.”
“We must work with our French friends and European partners across the Strait. I say to our partners that it is time for all of us to stand up and work together to do our best to break these gangs that really escaped the murder. “
Earlier Wednesday, the French Ministry of the Interior said that after a fisherman notified the authorities, the French patrol boat found five bodies and another five unconscious bodies in the water.
Record crossing points
At the time of the incident, there was growing tension between London and Paris as the number of people crossing the English Channel hit a record high.
Despite the high risks, the number of people crossing the strait in small boats or dinghies has increased dramatically this year. Britain has urged France to take tougher action against those who try to embark on the journey.
According to French authorities, since the beginning of this year, 31,500 people have tried to travel to the UK and 7,800 people have been rescued at sea. This number has doubled since August.
Seven people were confirmed dead or still missing this year, and they feared drowning after various incidents this year.
In an interview with Al Jazeera TV in Paris, journalist and scholar Peter Humi said that one of the reasons for the large number of border crossings to enter different parts of Europe included “certain wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan have ended.”
“Uncertainty continues to plague the region… This is a combination of the political situation in countries such as the Middle East and Afghanistan and the ongoing economic problems,” he added.
The ruling British Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing increasing pressure, including pressure from his supporters, to reduce the number of people crossing the English Channel.
According to British officials, more than 25,000 people have arrived so far this year, three times the number recorded in 2020.
Earlier this year, the Secretary of the Interior Priti Patel told Darmanin Preventing people from leaving France in small boats is her “first priority”.
The Minister of the Interior of France stated that Britain must abide by maritime laws and commitments made to its country, including financial payments for French maritime border patrols.