English Channel Deaths: Everything We Know So Far About The 27 Fatalities
At least 27 people died in the English Channel while attempting to reach the UK on Wednesday night.
The tragedy is the worst-recorded incident for deaths in the Channel since the International Organisation for Migration started collecting data in 2014, and has left both the UK and France reeling.
Here’s everything we know so far on the terrible incident.
People are still crossing the Channel
More groups are making the journey from France to English shores even after Wednesday night’s fatalities.
People were seen wearing life jackets and wrapped in blankets on a RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) lifeboat before getting off at Dover on Thursday morning.
It’s thought that the period of bad weather about to hit the Channel means people are desperately trying to reach the UK while they still can.
How has Downing Street responded?
Prime minister Boris Johnson said he was “appalled” by the news on Wednesday night, and vowed to leave “no stone unturned” when it comes to stopping these gangs.
He is calling for France to agree to joint police patrols along the French coast.
Downing Street has said that both countries will “keep all options on the table” as they attempt to break up the human trafficking gangs which put lives at risk by ferrying people across the busy sea lane of the Channel.
Johnson chaired an emergency Cobra meeting soon after the fatalities were reported, and said it was clear that the £54 million the UK gave to France to prevent Channel crossings was not enough as people traffickers are still “getting away with murder”.
He wants to increase the measures in the Nationality and Borders Bill so authorities can “distinguish between people who come here legally and people who come here illegally”.
Downing Street said the UK and France have agreed to try and work closely with other European countries as well, to tackle the problem long before people reach the French coast.
I am shocked, appalled and deeply saddened by the loss of life at sea in the Channel.
My thoughts are with the victims and their families.
Now is the time for us all to step up, work together and do everything we can to stop these gangs who are getting away with murder. pic.twitter.com/D1LWeoIFIu
Macron has vowed: “France will not let the Channel become a cemetery.”
He also promised to find and condemn those responsible for the tragedy, and called for an “emergency meeting of European ministers concerned by the migration challenge”.
French interior minister Gerald Darmanin said that the deaths were an “absolute tragedy”, while blaming the human trafficking gangs who promised people the “El Dorado of England” – referring to a mythical city of gold – for a fee.
Darmanin told French radio network RTL that “criminals” have been exploiting vulnerable people, including pregnant women and children “every day for the last 20 years”.
Is anyone to blame?
The exact cause of the deaths remains unknown at the moment, but figures on both sides of the Channel have been pointing the finger towards their neighbouring nation over the crisis.
The mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart has claimed that Johnson needs to “face up to his responsibilities” when it comes to the Channel.
Many UK newspapers have hit out at French police following claims they watched people smugglers heading to the sea with an extra-large dingy just hours before tragedy struck.
Allegedly a French police car with at least two officers inside did not interfere when more than 40 people dragged a 30ft inflatable dingy to the shore, despite the French government’s promise that they would try to stop anyone travelling across the Channel in an unsafe manner.
BBC Newsnight’s policy editor Lewis Goodall said both sides have questions to answer.
He explained: “For France on the conditions in the camps, with children living in the woods and streets. And for Britain the lack of legal routes for asylum to the UK, which critics says is one of the main reasons people accept the risk of taking to the seas.”
Zoe Gardner from the immigration charity, the Joint Council of Welfare for Immigrants, claimed that this should be a “turning point” in how the UK and France handle the crisis.
She told BBC Breakfast: “This has to be a time for our government to mark a turning point, this tragedy should not be allowed to continue and that means changing our approach, not more of the same failed policies.
“We need to offer people alternatives to the smuggling boats.
“The French are patrolling their own borders insufficiently, it’s absolutely horrendous.”
Has anyone been arrested?
The French authorities have already arrested five suspects over people trafficking connected to the incident.
The regional prosector has opened an investigation into aggravated manslaughter too.
It was initially reported that 31 people had died, but this was later revised down to 27 on Thursday morning.
How was the disaster spotted?
A fishing boat spotted people in the sea near France on Wednesday evening, prompting a joint search and rescue missions from the French and British authorities.
Among the 27 confirmed dead are five women – one of whom was reportedly pregnant – and one girl.
Two survivors are being treated in a French hospital and one person has been reported missing.
French and British authorities continued a rescue operation by air and sea to see if they could find any further survivors late into the night.
Why was the journey especially dangerous?
According to the French interior minister, the boat which the refugees were travelling on was very flimsy, and similar to “a pool you blow up in your garden”.
The Dover Strait is also the busiest shipping lane in the world – many have died while trying to cross it over the years.
This is not a one-off
More than 25,700 people made the journey across to the UK in small boats in just 2021, which is three times the amount who made the same journey back in 2020.