Police and local officials say at least 27 people have been killed after their boat sank off the coast of France.
At least 27 refugees and migrants were killed when they tried to cross the English Channel from France to England when their dinghy sank off the north coast of Calais, French police and a local official said.
Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart told BFM television on Wednesday that the death toll stood at 27, minutes after another mayor set the score at 24. French police said at least 27 people had been killed.
According to fishermen, more refugees and migrants left France’s northern coast on Wednesday than usual to take advantage of calm sea conditions, even though the water was bitterly cold. One fisherman called the rescue services after he saw an empty dinghy and people floating motionless nearby.
Three boats and three helicopters were deployed to take part in the search, local authorities said.
“Strong emotions in response to the tragedy that left several dead due to the capsizing of a tugboat in the English Channel,” Home Secretary Gerald Darmanin said in a tweet.
“We can not say enough about the criminal nature of the smugglers who organize these crossings. I’m going to the scene. “
France’s Prime Minister Jean Castex called the boat’s capsizing a “tragedy”.
“My thoughts are with the many missing and injured, victims of criminal smugglers who exploit their distress and misery,” he tweeted.
The French Interior Ministry said earlier on Wednesday that French patrol vessels had found five bodies and five others unconscious in the water after a fisherman alerted authorities.
The incident comes as tensions between London and Paris grow over the record number of people crossing the Channel.
The number of people using small boats or dinghies to cross the Channel has grown sharply this year, despite the high risks. Britain has urged France to take tougher action against those trying to undertake the journey.
According to French authorities, 31,500 people have tried to leave for Britain since the beginning of the year and 7,800 people have been rescued at sea, figures that have doubled since August.
Seven people have been confirmed dead or still missing drowning after several incidents this year.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ruling British Conservative Party is coming under increasing pressure, including from his own supporters, to reduce the number of people crossing the Channel.
According to British officials, more than 25,000 people have turned up so far this year, three times the figure recorded in 2020.
Earlier this year, Interior Minister Priti Patel told Darmanin that it was her “number one priority” to stop people coming on small boats their way from France.
The French Home Secretary said the UK should comply with both maritime laws and obligations imposed on its country, which include financial payments to help fund French maritime border patrols.