More than 30 migrants dead after boat capsizes in Channel near Calais
At least 30 migrants have died crossing the Channel from France when their boat sank off the port of Calais, authorities said, the deadliest single disaster on the intensively-used route.
The French interior ministry said in a statement that French patrol vessels found corpses and people unconscious in the water after a fisherman sounded the alarm about the accident. Police then said in a statement that “over 20” people had died.
The disaster, the worst single loss of life recorded in recent times from migrant crossings in the Channel, comes as tensions grow between London and Paris over the record numbers of people crossing, with Britain urging tougher action from France to stop them making the voyage.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “shocked, appalled and deeply saddened” by the tragedy.
Xavier Bertrand, French Right-wing presidential hopeful and head of the Calais region tweeted: “Deep emotion and anger after the capsizing of a boat in Calais. To end these tragedies, we need even more means to break the smuggler networks, these criminals who exploit misery.”
Profonde émotion et colère après le naufrage d’une embarcation à #Calais. Pour mettre un terme à ces drames, il faut encore renforcer les moyens pour briser les réseaux de passeurs, ces criminels qui exploitent la misère.
Shadow home secretary: Unrealistic to patrol our entire coastline
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said action was needed to disrupt the flow of migrants before they reached the Channel coast.
“It really now has to act as the most tragic of wake-up calls to redouble our efforts to make sure that people are not out on the water in these terrible makeshift boats risking their lives,” he told the BBC.
“It is unrealistic to think that the entirety of that coastline can be patrolled. We need to be looking at practical law enforcement action away from the coast as well.
“We need that wider joint law enforcement work with the French authorities to be disrupting further away from the coast. In addition to that we do need to look at safe and legal routes.”
Charlotte Kwantes, head of Utopia 56, a charity working with migrants said: “For years we have been denouncing and warning about the dangerous situation at the border.
“As long as safe passage routes are not set up between England and France, or as long as these people cannot be given paperwork to stay in France, there will continue to be deaths at the border, whether [Gérald] Darmanin comes to Calais or not.”
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.”
Former Home Office minister: France – stop the migrant crossings
Former Home Office minister Chris Philp called on the French to stop the migrant crossings.
The current minister for technology and the digital economy wrote on Twitter: “This an awful human tragedy – especially as France is a safe country and the journey across the Channel therefore unnecessary.
“French law enforcement must stop these crossings for the safety of those involved.”
A Dover fishing skipper told the Telegraph the migrant boat went down during one of the calmest days at sea for some time, with the flimsy boat likely to have split under the weight of its desperate passenger, reports our Senior Reporter Patrick Sawer.
Matt Cocker, who was out in the channel on his vessel Portia at the time, said French vessels appeared not to have responded to Mayday calls from their own coastguard, despite the incident taking place in French waters.
He said: “The French coastguard raised the alarm at around 1pm, asking for assistance in the rescue of a boat with around 15 on board and more in the water in the north east shipping lane, 7 miles off Calais, which the French control.
“There were around 15/20 big French commercial fishing vessels off Calais at the time, but they didn’t respond. There seemed to be little by way of a rescue operation from the French.”
By contrast, vessels from HM Coastguard at Dover, along with the Border Force’s vessel BF Hurricane, responded to the emergency alert and arrived at the scene in around 45 minutes.
Mr Cocker said it was likely the migrant’s boat had been a “cheap and flimsy” one which simply gave way.
“It was absolutely flat, with probably about 30 migrant boats taking advantage of the best weather for days to cross.
“But the traffickers put them in cheap plastic inflatables. They’re not proper boats.
“They overload them and they split and deflate and the people end up in the water. They often don’t have life jackets. They don’t stand a chance.”
He added: “They often don’t even have proper motors. The traffickers are charging £3-5,000 each with 20 on board so they are really maximising their profits.”
Migrant charity Care4Calais tweeted: “We are devastated to hear that as many as 24 more people have died attempting to cross the English Channel to the UK. According to news reports from France, at 2pm this afternoon a fisherman raised the alarm after finding bodies floating in the sea off Calais.
“More than ever why we need a modern system of safe, legal routes enabling refugees to apply for asylum in the UK.
“After today’s tragedy, the UK asylum system must surely be regarded as intolerable by all reasonable people.
“On behalf of those who have died, we again urge the Government to scrap its anti-refugee bill and introduce a fair, modern system now.
Refugee Council calls to end ‘cruel’ tactic of pushing away
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.
“How many tragedies like this must we see before the Government fundamentally changes its approach by committing to an ambitious expansion of safe routes for those men, women and children in desperate need of protection?
“Every day, people are forced to flee their home through no fault of their own. Now is the time to end the cruel and ineffective tactic of seeking to punish or push away those who try and find safety in our country.”
Charity calls for cross-party support for safe routes by Christmas
Detention Action, a charity which supports people in immigration detention, was “truly saddened” by the latest deaths in the Channel, according to director Bella Sankey.
She said: “We are truly saddened by reports that more than 20 people have died today in the Channel. The number of people seeking asylum in the UK remains the same as in recent years, so it is this Government’s failures that have allowed this current crisis.
“A cross-party group of MPs have put forward a Humanitarian Visa proposal which would provide a safe route and save lives and we hope that parliamentarians will vote this in to legislation by Christmas.”
Fisherman saw two dinghies – one with people on board, the other empty
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he was heading for the coast. “Strong emotion in the face of the tragedy of numerous deaths due to the capsizing of a migrant boat in the English Channel,” he wrote in a tweet.
One fisherman, Nicolas Margolle, told Reuters he had seen two small dinghies earlier on Wednesday, one with people on board and another empty.
He said another fisherman had called rescue services after seeing an empty dinghy and 15 people floating motionless nearby, either unconscious or dead.
He confirmed there were more dinghies on Wednesday because the weather was good. “But it’s cold,” Margolle added.
Early on Wednesday, Reuters reporters saw a group of over 40 migrants head towards Britain on a dinghy.
The Channel is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and currents are strong. Overloaded dinghies often barely stay afloat and are at the mercy of waves.
While French police have prevented more crossings than in previous years, they have only partially stemmed the flow of migrants wanting to reach Britain – one of the many sources of tensions between Paris and London.
At least 27 migrants died after their dinghy capsized on Wednesday while trying to cross the Channel from France to Britain, a local mayor said.
According to fishermen, more migrants left France’s northern shores than usual to take advantage of calm sea conditions, although the water was bitterly cold. One fisherman called the rescue services after seeing an empty dinghy and people floating motionless nearby.
Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart told BFM television the death toll now stood at 27, minutes after another mayor put the tally at 24.
The local coast guard said they could not yet confirm the number of deaths, adding that rescue services had found around 20 people in the water of whom only two were conscious.
They estimated that there had been about 30 people on the dinghy before it capsized.
‘This is the worst migrant tragedy we have known and one we have long feared’
A spokesman for the Manche Mer du Nord maritime state prefecture told The Telegraph: “This is the worst migrant tragedy we have known and one that we have long feared.
“A fisherman raised the alarm after 1pm after spotting people in the water around 10km off the coast of Calais in the busy and dangerous shipping lane halfway between France and the UK.
“We dispatched several boats to the scene and recovered around 20 people who were seen in the water but unfortunately we believe that there were around 30 people on the boat that capsized so we are continuing the search operation to find others.
“We recovered more than 25 people. Five, all adults, have already been pronounced dead but more than 20 are still unconscious.
“A doctor is currently trying to ascertain their state of health. We believe that other migrants are still missing given that 30 were on board. Given that the water is around 10 degrees Celsius, the hope of finding of anyone alive is very, very unlikely given the time.
“We have no idea what the boat was like because the boat was not there when lifeboats arrived, they were all in the water. Two helicopters, one of them British, and three French boats are still at the scene.
“We are in contact with our British counterparts and lifeboat centres have always had very good cooperation.”