Dozens of refugees, migrants die as boat sinks in English Channel –

At least 31 refugees and migrants have died seeking to cross the English Channel from France to England when their dinghy sank off the northern coast of Calais.

A joint French-British operation to search for survivors was under way on Wednesday evening. At least three boats and three helicopters were deployed to take part in the search, local authorities said.

The United Nations migration agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) called the incident the largest single loss of life in the Channel since it started collecting data in 2014.

More people left France’s northern shores than usual to take advantage of calm sea conditions on Wednesday, although the water was bitterly cold, the Reuters news agency reported, citing fishermen. One fisherman called the rescue services after seeing an empty dinghy and people floating motionless nearby.

Four arrested

French Prime Minister Jean Castex called the boat sinking a “tragedy”.

“My thoughts are with the many missing and injured, victims of criminal smugglers who exploit their distress and misery,” he wrote in a tweet.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced that at least 31 people had died and said his country would not let the Channel become a cemetery.

French Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin said five women and a girl were among the 31 dead. He said two people had been rescued.

Darmanin added the French police had arrested four people suspected of being linked to the drowning which he called “the biggest [migrant] tragedy that we have seen”.

‘Shocked and appalled’

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “was shocked and appalled and deeply sad by the loss of life”, after he had chaired a meeting of the government’s emergency committee on the crossings.

“My thoughts and sympathies are [with] the victims and their families and it is an appalling thing that they have suffered. But this disaster underscores how dangerous it is to cross the Channel in this way,” he added.

Johnson asserted his government would “leave no stone unturned to demolish the business proposition of the human traffickers and the gangsters”.

“We have to work with our French friends, with our European partners across the Channel. I say to our partners now is the time for us all to step up, to work together, to do everything we can to break these gangs who are literally getting away with murder.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the French interior ministry said French patrol vessels found five bodies and five other people unconscious in the water after a fisherman alerted authorities.

Britain has urged France to take stricter actions against those attempting to take the journey across the English Channel [Ben Stansall/AFP]

Record crossings

The incident comes as tensions grow between London and Paris over the record numbers of people crossing the Channel.

The number of people using small boats or dinghies to cross the Channel has grown sharply this year, despite the high risks. Britain has urged France to take stricter actions against those attempting to take the journey.

According to the French authorities, 31,500 people attempted to leave for Britain since the start of the year and 7,800 people have been rescued at sea, figures which doubled since August.

A damaged inflatable dinghy and a sleeping bag abandoned by migrants are seen on the beach near Wimereux, France, on November 24, 2021 [Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters]

Seven people have been confirmed dead or are still missing feared drowned after various incidents this year.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Paris, journalist and academic Peter Humi said one of the reasons driving the large number of crossings into different parts of Europe included the “conclusion of certain wars in the Middle East and as far as Afghanistan”.

“Uncertainty continues to plague that region … It is a combination of the political situation in the Middle East and in countries such as Afghanistan and the continuing economic problems,” he added.

The ruling UK Conservative Party of Prime Minister Boris Johnson is coming under increasing pressure, including from its own supporters, to reduce the number of people crossing the Channel.

According to UK officials, more than 25,000 people have arrived so far this year, already triple the figure recorded in 2020.

Earlier this year, Home Secretary Priti Patel told Darmanin that stopping people making their way from France on small boats was her “number one priority”.

The French interior minister has said the UK must honour both maritime law and commitments made to his country, which include financial payments to help fund French maritime border patrols.

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Dozens of refugees, migrants die as boat sinks in English Channel –

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