At least 31 people die after boat capsizes in English Channel

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At least 31 people die after boat capsizes in English Channel
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  • Priti Patel
    Priti Patel
    British politician (born 1972)

At least 31 migrants have died after their boat capsized in the English Channel while trying to cross from France to Britain on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “shocked, appalled and deeply saddened” about the “disaster” and hit out at people trafficking gangs who are “literally getting away with murder”.

French prime minister Jean Castex called it a “tragedy” and said his thoughts were with “victims of criminal smugglers who exploit their distress and injury”.

Speaking from Calais, French Interior Minister, Gerald Darmanin, said: "Today is an appalling situation for France, Europe and humanity to see these people perish at sea because of traffickers".

Mr Darmanin confirmed that of the 34 people onboard, 31 migrants had drowned in the English Channel.

He said that of these, five were women and one was a “little girl”.

The International Organization for Migration said it was the biggest single loss of life in the Channel since it began collecting data in 2014.

The nationalities of those onboard is not yet known.

French police have arrested four people near France’s border with Belgium.

The minister added that 255 people succeeded in getting across the Channel to England on Wednesday, with another 681 people stopped.

Mr Darmanin said: “So we’re talking about a day like any other days of migrants who... want to go to England at their risk and peril and often like today we see these appalling dramas.”

He said the true criminals in this case are the people who charge up to 3,000 euros for migrants to embark flimsy dinghies to try and cross.

Some 7,800 migrants have been saved at sea by French sailors since January 1.

Mr Johnson will chair a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee in response to the deaths, Downing Street said.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the deaths of 30 people after a boat capsized in the Channel were the “starkest possible reminder” of the dangers of the crossing.

She tweeted: “My thoughts are with the families of all of those who have tragically lost their lives in French waters today.

“It serves as the starkest possible reminder of the dangers of these Channel crossings organised by ruthless criminal gangs.

“It is why this Government’s New Plan for Immigration will overhaul our broken asylum system and address many of the long-standing pull factors encouraging migrants to make the perilous journey from France to the United Kingdom.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: “For lives to be lost in such dangerous and desperate circumstances is a devastating and heartbreaking tragedy.”

Both sides ‘need to find a solution’

The English Channel risks becoming the new Mediterranean Sea for migrant crossings unless the UK and France work together to find a solution, the French MP for Calais has said.

Pierre-Henri Dumont said: “We all need, both sides of the Channel, to stop making migrants an internal argument with internal policies and try to figure out how to find a solution.”

Pierre Roques, coordinator of the Auberge des Migrants NGO in Calais, said the Channel risked becoming as deadly for migrants as the Mediterranean which has seen a much heavier toll over the last years of migrants crossing.

“People are dying in the Channel, which is becoming a cemetery. And as England is right opposite, people will continue to cross.”

More than 25,700 people have made the dangerous journey to the UK in small boats this year – three times the total for the whole of 2020, according to data compiled by the PA news agency.

The longstanding dispute between France and Britain has intensified this year after record numbers of migrants reaching the UK were recorded.

Last week France rejected a British claim that Priti Patel and her counterpart Gerald Darmanin agreed to work to prevent “100% of crossings” of the English Channel.

The Home Office issued a joint statement from the pair which said they had agreed measures to “stop the dangerous crossings” of the “deadly route”.

But the French embassy in London said the 100 per cent figure “should not be presented as an agreed figure”.

The tensions have added to a litany of post-Brexit issues between Britain and France, that also have seen a dispute over fishing rights threaten to escalate into a full-blown trade war.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “It’s heartbreaking to hear that the lives of more ordinary people have been lost on a harrowing journey to Britain in search of safety.”

The Dover Strait is the busiest shipping lane in the world and has claimed many lives of people trying to cross to Britain in inflatable dinghies.

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