Nov 25, 2021: French police and a local official say at least 27 refugees and migrants were trying to cross the English Channel from France to England when their dinghy sank off the northern coast of Calais.
Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchard told BFM television on Wednesday that the death toll had risen to 27. French police confrim at least 27 people have been killed.
The UN agency International Organization for Migration called the incident the deadliest since the channel collected data in 2014.
According to fishermen, more refugees and migrants left France’s northern shores than usual to take advantage of calm sea conditions on Wednesday, although the water was bitterly cold. One fisherman called the rescue services after seeing an empty dinghy and people floating motionless nearby.
Local officials said three boats and three helicopters had been deployed to help with the search.
France Prime Minister Jean Castex called the boat capsizing a “tragedy”.
“My thoughts are with the many missing and injured, victims of criminal smugglers who exploit their distress and misery,” he tweeted.
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.
Johnson asserted his government would “leave no stone unturned to demolish the business proposition of the human traffickers and the gangsters”.
Earlier on Wednesday, the French interior ministry said French patrol vessels found five bodies and five others unconscious in the water after a fisherman alerted authorities.
The incident comes at a time when tensions are rising between London and Paris over the record number of people crossing the channel. Despite the high risk, the number of people using small boats or dinghies to cross the channel has risen sharply this year. Britain has urged France to crack down on those trying to travel.
According to French officials, 31,500 people have tried to flee to Britain since the beginning of the year and 7,800 have been rescued at sea, a figure that has doubled since August.
Seven people have been confirmed dead or are still missing feared drowned after various incidents this year.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ruling UK Conservative Party is under increasing pressure, including from its 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, more than three times the number recorded in 2020.
The French interior minister said Britain should respect maritime law and its commitments to the country, including financial payments for French maritime border patrols.
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