At least 27 migrants trying to reach England from France died on Wednesday when their boat sank near Calais, northern France. This was the deadliest disaster since the La Manche Channel became a hub for clandestine crossings.
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President Emmanuel Macron vowed France would not allow the Channel to become a “cemetery” and also spoke to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to agree on stepping up efforts to thwart the traffickers blamed for the surge in crossings.
“It is Europe’s deepest values - humanism and respect for the dignity of each person - that are in mourning,” President Macron said.
The disaster caused the highest death toll since at least 2018 when migrants began using boats en masse to cross the Channel. The tragedy happened as tensions between London and Paris were growing over the record numbers of people crossing.
Prosecutors opened a manslaughter probe after the boat sank off the northern port city of Calais.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that four suspected traffickers accused of being directly linked to the doomed crossing in a long inflatable boat had been arrested.
The Minister told reporters that only two survivors had been found and both of their lives were in danger. He also mentioned that five women and one little girl were among those who died, while Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart said a pregnant woman was also one of the victims.
The nationality of the migrants was not immediately clear. An initial toll said 31 migrants had died but the interior ministry later revised this down to 27.
Prime Minister Jean Castex will hold a crisis meeting early on Thursday, his office said.
According to British services, 22,000 migrants travelled through the La Manche Channel in the first 10 months of the year.