Toronto Star

Boat capsizes, at least 27 dead

Growing number fleeing Asia, Africa attempt crossing of English Channel


At least 27 migrants bound for Britain died Wednesday when their boat sank in the English Channel, in what France’s interior minister called the biggest tragedy involving migrants on the dangerous crossing to date.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 34 people were believed to have been on the boat. Others appeared to still be missing. The nationalit­ies of the travelers were not immediatel­y known.

Ever-increasing numbers of people fleeing conflict or poverty in Afghanista­n, Sudan, Iraq, Eritrea or elsewhere are risking the perilous journey in small, unseaworth­y craft from France, hoping to win asylum or find better opportunit­ies in Britain. The crossings have tripled this year compared to 2020.

A joint French-British search operation for survivors was called off late Wednesday. Both countries cooperate to stem migration across the Channel but also accuse each other of not doing enough — and the issue is often used by politician­s on both sides pushing an anti-migration agenda.

Four suspected trafficker­s were arrested Wednesday on suspicion of being linked to the sunken boat, Darmanin told reporters in the French port city of Calais. He said two of the suspects later appeared in court.

The regional prosecutor opened an investigat­ion into aggravated manslaught­er, organized illegal migration and other charges after the sinking. Lille Prosecutor Carole Etienne, whose office is overseeing the investigat­ion, said officials were still working to identify the victims and determine their ages and nationalit­ies.

She told The Associated Press that the investigat­ion may involve multiple countries as more informatio­n about the passengers emerges.

Activists demonstrat­ed outside the port of Calais on Wednesday night, accusing government­s of not doing enough to respond to migrants’ needs. Hundreds of people live in precarious conditions along the French coast, despite regular police patrols and evacuation operations.

The bodies were brought to Calais. “Trafficker­s are assassins,” Jean-Marc Puissessea­u, head of the ports of Calais and Boulogne, said. “We were waiting for something like this to happen.”

Darmanin called for coordinati­on with the U.K., saying “the response must also come from Great Britain.”

French President Emmanuel Macron advocated an immediate funding boost for the European Union’s border agency, Frontex, and an emergency meeting of European government ministers “concerned by the migration challenge,” according to his office. “France will not allow the Channel to become a cemetery,” Macron said, according to his office.

France’s government is holding an emergency meeting Thursday morning to discuss the next steps.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson convened a meeting of the government’s crisis committee, and said he was “shocked, appalled and deeply saddened.”

He urged France to step up efforts to stem the flow of migrants, and said Wednesday’s incident highlighte­d how efforts by French authoritie­s to patrol their beaches “haven’t been enough.” He reiterated that Britain wants to work with the French to “break the business model” of smuggling gangs.

French and British authoritie­s have picked up thousands of migrants in the Channel in recent weeks, in scores of rescue operations.

Darmanin insisted that France has worked hard to prevent crossings, rescuing 7,800 people since January and stopping 671 who were trying to cross on Wednesday alone.

A French naval boat spotted several bodies in the water around 2 p.m. and rescue boats retrieved several dead and injured from the surroundin­g waters, a maritime authority spokespers­on said. French patrol boats, a French helicopter and a British helicopter searched the area.

Migrants from around the world have long used northern France as a launching point to reach Britain by stowing away in trucks or using dinghies and other small boats organized by smugglers. Many want to reach the U.K. in search of economic opportunit­y or because of family and community ties, or because their efforts to win asylum in the EU failed. French authoritie­s say another big draw is lax British rules toward migrants without residency papers.

The number of crossings in small boats has grown sharply this year, despite the high risks that are worsening in autumn weather.

More than 25,700 people undertook it so far this year — three times the total for the whole of 2020.

France will not allow the Channel to become a cemetery.


 ?? BEN STANSALL AFP/GETTY IMAGES ?? Those fleeing Sudan, Iraq, Eritrea and elsewhere are risking the journey in unseaworth­y craft.
BEN STANSALL AFP/GETTY IMAGES Those fleeing Sudan, Iraq, Eritrea and elsewhere are risking the journey in unseaworth­y craft.

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