France in mourning as 31 migrants dead in Calais boat sinking

4 arrested; Macron, Johnson call for European response to crackdown on smugglers network

Shweta Desai   | 25.11.2021
France in mourning as 31 migrants dead in Calais boat sinking


In one of the worst disasters to occur during the dangerous crossings to reach the United Kingdom, at least 31 migrants were reported dead as a boat capsized off the French coast of Calais on Wednesday.  

Interior minister Gerald Darmanin, who rushed to the site in the evening, announced the arrest of four smugglers who are suspected of being involved and primarily responsible for organizing the boat journey. Among the dead are five women and a little girl and there are two survivors who are admitted in the emergency, he said while speaking to media from Calais. 

Darmanin said the deaths marked great mourning for France and Europe and called for "an international, coordinated and very harsh response to this despicable tragedy." 

"This is the greatest tragedy we have known," he said. 

President Emmanuel vowed to not "let the Channel become a cemetery" while also calling for "the immediate reinforcement" of European border and coast guard agency Frontex, BFMTV news reported. He called for "an emergency meeting of European ministers" and assured to do everything to find those responsible behind the tragedy. 

In a statement released by the Downing Street, British Premier Boris Johnson said he was shocked and deeply saddened at the deaths. 

Urging the French and the European countries to act together, he said, it was now time to use "every possible power and leave no stone unturned to demolish the business proposition of the human traffickers and the gangsters" who are getting away with "murder." 

The incident was brought to attention when a fishing vessel sounded an alarm after locating several bodies floating in the sea. 

The deaths come after last week's agreement between France and Britain to prevent illegal crossings of the migrants in small boats from the French coast. The two countries have been locked in high tension and blame game, with Britain accusing France of lack of action, and France claiming the UK responsible for encouraging migrants to land on its shores.

The top leadership of the French government deplored the incident and held the human traffickers responsible for the "tragedy". Prime minister Jean Castex said the dead were the "victims of the criminal smugglers who exploited their distress and misery. Interior minister Gerald Darmanin rushed to the Calais in northern France, said he was filled with "strong emotions" on the many deaths. "We cannot say enough about the criminal nature of the smugglers who organize these crossings," he said on Twitter.

Mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart said the deaths underscored her worst fears. She said for the last several weeks she called up higher authorities to warn about the presence of a vast network of smugglers who had been gathering in Calais to organize illegal crossings.

In a crackdown against smugglers network, last week, around 50 people suspected to be involved in organizing crossings were arrested in Calais and Dunkirk. More than 1,300 suspected smugglers have been arrested since January.

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