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Migrants are helped by RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) before being taken to a beach in Dungeness, on the south-east coast of England, on Nov. 24, 2021, after crossing the English Channel.BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

Thirty-one people died on Wednesday after their dinghy capsized while crossing the Channel from France to Britain, in the worst disaster on record involving migrants in the waters separating the countries.

The Channel is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and currents are strong. Overloaded dinghies often barely stay afloat and are at the mercy of waves as they try to reach British shores.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 34 people had been onboard, 31 of whom had died, two were rescued and one was still missing.

Johnson shocked by migrants’ deaths, calls for France to do more

“There are two survivors ... but their life is in danger, they are suffering from severe hypothermia,” he said.

“It is a catastrophe for France, for Europe, for humanity, to see these people who are at the mercy of smugglers perish at sea.”

More migrants left France’s northern shores than usual to take advantage of calm sea conditions on Wednesday, according to fishermen, although the water was bitterly cold.

One fisherman, Nicolas Margolle, told Reuters he had seen two small dinghies earlier on Wednesday, one with people on board and another empty.

He said another fisherman had called the rescue operation after seeing an empty dinghy and 15 people floating motionless nearby, either unconscious or dead.

He confirmed there were more dinghies on Wednesday because the weather was good. “But it’s cold,” Margolle added.

Early on Wednesday, Reuters reporters saw a group of over 40 migrants head towards Britain on a dinghy.

The Channel is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and currents are strong. Overloaded dinghies often barely stay afloat and are at the mercy of waves.

While French police are preventing more crossings than in previous years, they have only partially stemmed the flow of migrants wanting to reach Britain in what has become one of the many sources of tensions between Paris and London.

British and French officials traded blame on Wednesday after 27 migrants died when their dinghy deflated as they made a perilous crossing of the English Channel.

Reuters

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