© Reuters. On November 24, 2021, a group of immigrants left the northern coast of France in an inflatable dinghy and crossed the English Channel near Vermeer, France. They also left behind a life jacket. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
Authors: Geert De Clercq and Ingrid Melander
PARIS (Reuters)-31 people, including five women and a little girl, died on Wednesday after their rubber dinghy crossed the English Channel from France to the UK. This was the worst disaster on record. It involves immigrants in the waters that separate the country.
The strait is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, and the water is fast. Overloaded boats are usually barely able to float when trying to reach the British coast and are at the mercy of the waves.
French Interior Minister Gerald Damanin said that there were 34 people on board, of which 31 were dead, two were rescued, and one was missing.
“There are two survivors… but their lives are in danger and they suffer from severe hypothermia,” he said.
Darmanin said that the nationality and identity of the immigrants are not yet known, adding that four traffickers suspected of involvement in the accident have been arrested.
French President Emmanuel Macron stated that Frontex, the EU border agency, should obtain more financial means to protect the EU’s external borders and prevent more immigrants from reaching the northern coast of France.
He also called for an emergency meeting of European ministers to discuss this issue.
“France will not let the strait be a cemetery,” Macron said.
According to fishermen, the number of migrants leaving the coastline of the French Strait on Wednesday to take advantage of the calm sea conditions was higher than usual, despite the very cold water.
A fisherman named Nicolas Margolle told Reuters that he saw two small boats early on Wednesday, one carrying people and the other empty.
He said that another fisherman called the rescue service after seeing an empty boat and 15 people floating nearby, and was either unconscious or dead.
Darmanin said that the migrants’ boats had been discouraged, and when rescuers arrived, it was “disappointed like an inflatable garden swimming pool”.
Although the French police blocked more border crossings than in previous years, they only partially prevented the wave of immigrants who wanted to reach the UK-one of the many sources of tension between Paris and London.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “shocked and shocked” by these deaths.
After presiding over the emergency cabinet meeting, he said: “My thoughts and sympathy are with the victims and their families…but this disaster highlights how dangerous it is to cross the English Channel in this way.”
Although both governments blamed the smugglers, some French politicians, including Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart, blamed the problem on the United Kingdom, saying the United Kingdom should change its immigration policy.
Some human rights groups say that stricter monitoring has prompted immigrants to take greater risks as they seek a better life in the West.
L’Auberge des Migrants, an advocacy organization that supports refugees and displaced persons, said: “To blame the smugglers alone is to conceal the responsibility of the French and British authorities.”
A local maritime official said that before Wednesday’s disaster, 14 people drowned this year while trying to travel to the UK. A total of 7 people died in 2020, 2 people were missing, and 4 people died in 2019.
Earlier Wednesday, Reuters reporters in France saw a group of more than 40 immigrants heading to Britain in small boats. A Reuters reporter who arrived on the coast of England later saw the members of the same group.