Migrants on the English Channel being helped by a lifeboat before being taken to the south coast of England. (credit: The New York Times)
27 people are dead, and one is missing, after a lifeboat capsized off the coast of France early on Wednesday. The Britain-bound boat’s sinking makes the event the deadliest on the English Channel since 2014 according to the International Organization for Migration.
An initial report counted the dead at 31, but the French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin revised the number to 27 late on Wednesday night.
Darmanin also confirmed that four suspected human traffickers have been arrested in connection with the incident. “Those primarily responsible for this despicable situation are the smugglers, that is to say criminals who, for a few thousand euros, organize human trafficking from Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, Asia and who then use these people to bring them to Belgium, the Netherlands, France, especially to cross the Channel and to go to Great Britain,” Darmanin said.
The Channel between France and England is one of the busiest waterways in the world for refugees and migrants seeking asylum in Europe. Many of these travellers are forced to use vessels unfit for travel provided to them by human smugglers.
The tragedy has caused tensions between the French leader Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. In a phone call between the two leaders late Wednesday, Macron accused Johnson of using the European migrant crisis for political gain. He told the Prime Minister he “expected the British to cooperate fully and refrain from politicizing a dramatic situation for political purposes.”
Minister Darmanin also accused Britain of not putting their fair share of the resources into helping clear the English Channel of these dangerous migrant boats. He said British resources “remain minimal compared to the resources that we are obviously putting in place to put in more police officers, more gendarmes, more cameras, more resources in general.”
Earlier this week, France announced it was committing resources worth over 11 million euros ($12.3 million USD), including new vehicles and equipment, to secure 130 kilometers of their coastline.