Paris, Nov 24 (EFE).- The death toll from the capsizing Wednesday of a boat crossing the English Channel with migrants trying to reach the United Kingdom has climbed to 31, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.
The fatalities include five women and a child, he told reporters outside a hospital in the coastal city of Calais.
Two other passengers were rescued thanks to the “heroic” efforts of first responders and four suspected traffickers are in custody, Darmanin said.
France will not allow the Channel to become a “cemetery,” President Emmanuel Macron said, calling on Paris’ European Union partners to approve more resources for the bloc’s border security agency, Frontex.
“To the families of the victims, to their loved ones, I want to express my compassion and the unconditional support of France,” he said in a statement. “I assure them that everything will be done to find and condemn those responsible, networks of smugglers who exploit misery and distress, endanger human lives and ultimately decimate families.”
France has been working with the UK to crack down on migrant trafficking, Macron said, pointing to the arrest so far this year of 1,552 smugglers and the dismantling of 44 smuggling networks.
Just last week, authorities arrested 15 members of a gang accused of smuggling migrants – mostly from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Eritrea – across the Channel.
Yet even with those efforts, authorities have detected 47,000 attempts to cross to the UK since Jan. 1 and French rescue services have come to the aid of 7,800 migrants, the president said.
Nearly 25,000 undocumented migrants have attempted to reach the UK by crossing the Channel during the first 10 months of the year, compared with 9,551 people in the whole of 2020.
Wednesday’s tragedy, described by French authorities as the worst-ever accident in the waters off Calais, came two days after Macron’s government announced plans to deploy more than 100 additional ground vehicles and marine craft in the area to deter migrants from trying to make the journey.
But UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the events of Wednesday demonstrated that France’s efforts “have not been enough.”
“What this shows is that the gangs who are sending people to sea will literally stop at nothing,” he told reporters in London.
“But I am afraid what it also shows that the operation that is being conducted by our friends, on the beaches, supported with £54m ($72 million) from the UK to help patrol the beaches, all the technical support we have been giving, they haven’t been enough,” the Conservative prime minister said.
He said that the UK, whose exit from the EU took effect at the start of this year, has made an offer “to increase our support but also to work together with our partners on the beaches concerned, on the launching grounds for these boats and that is something I hope that will be acceptable now.” EFE