At least 31 people have died after a boat carrying migrants capsized in the English Channel while trying to cross from France to Britain on Wednesday.
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”.
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. Of the 33 people found between Calais and Dunkirk, just two were saved and are in intensive care. One person is still missing and a search party continues.
The nationalities of those onboard is not yet known. 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. Mr Darmanin said French police have arrested four people suspected of being linked to the drowning. It is the worst ever disaster involving migrants trying to cross to Britain, he said.
France’s prime minister said the drowning was a “tragedy” and his thoughts were with “victims of criminal smugglers who exploit their distress and injury”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he is “shocked, appalled and deeply saddened” by the loss of life in the English Channel and the Government will “leave no stone unturned to demolish human trafficking gangs”. 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.” 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”.
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.