France calls for European aid after 27 migrant deaths at sea

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin answers the press in Calais, northern France, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. At least 31 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.

CALAIS, France — At least 31 migrants bound for Britain died Wednesday when their boat sank in the English Channel, in what France’s interior minister called the biggest migration tragedy on the dangerous crossing to date.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 34 people were believed to have been on the boat. Authorities found 31 bodies — including those of five women and a young girl — and two survivors, he said. One person appeared to still be missing.

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, and another 106 migrants were rescued in French waters on Wednesday alone. A joint French-British search operation for survivors of the sinking 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 anti-migration agendas.

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 told the Associated Press that officials were still working to identify the victims and determine their ages and nationalities, and that the investigation may involve multiple countries.



“It’s a day of great mourning for France, for Europe, for humanity to see these people die at sea,” Darmanin said. He lashed out at “criminal traffickers” driving thousands to risk the crossing.

The bodies were brought to the Calais port, Jean-Marc Puissesseau, head of the ports of Calais and Boulogne, told the Associated Press. “We were waiting for something like this to happen,” he said, given the growing numbers of people risking the passage.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke after Wednesday’s tragedy and agreed “that it is vital to keep all options on the table to stop these lethal crossings and break the business model of the criminal gangs behind them,” Johnson’s office said.

Downing Street said the two leaders “underlined the importance of close working with neighbors in Belgium and the Netherlands as well as partners across the continent if we are to tackle the problem effectively before people reach the French coast.”

More than 25,700 people undertook such dangerous boat journeys so far this year — three times the total for the whole of 2020. With changeable weather, cold seas and heavy maritime traffic, the crossing is dangerous for the inflatables and other small boats that men, women and children squeeze into.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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