LONDON: Tragedy struck as five migrants lost their lives while attempting to cross the English Channel from northern France to Britain in freezing temperatures, with a sixth individual in critical condition, as reported by the French maritime authority on Sunday.
More than 30 people were rescued in the operation, marking the first migrant deaths in the Channel for 2024. The group faced peril when their small boat encountered difficulty off the resort town of Wimereux around 2:00 am.
The vessel, attempting to launch away from the shore, capsized due to swell and rising tide, according to the Boulogne-sur-Mer public prosecutor’s office. The victims, believed to be young men of Syrian origin, were discovered by the crew of the French tow vessel, Abeille Normandie.
Survivors were taken to a shelter in Calais, with authorities launching an investigation into “aggravated manslaughter” and other offenses.
Autopsies will determine the cause of death, possibly attributed to drowning or thermal shock. The tragedy unfolded amidst a surge in attempts to cross the Channel, with over a hundred people trying since Saturday night, resulting in more than 60 rescues.
The perilous journey across the Channel has been a longstanding challenge, and the region around Calais remains a focal point for migrants. Despite the closure of a Red Cross center in Sangatte two decades ago, hundreds of people still live in makeshift shelters, hoping for a chance to cross clandestinely. In 2023, twelve migrants lost their lives attempting the perilous journey.
The British government, grappling with the crisis, has pursued controversial plans to deport migrants arriving illegally in Britain to Rwanda. Foreign Minister David Cameron emphasized the need to halt the illegal trade in human beings, calling for action against people smugglers.
Labour leader Keir Starmer expressed sorrow over the tragic incidents but criticized the Rwanda deportation plan as a “gimmick,” urging authorities to target the criminal networks orchestrating these dangerous journeys.
Despite a drop in 2023, with nearly 30,000 migrants crossing the Channel, the situation remains a contentious issue between the UK and France. The British government emphasizes the need to disrupt human smuggling networks, while opposition leaders call for a comprehensive approach to address the root causes of migration. As the English Channel continues to pose risks for migrants, the recent tragedy underscores the urgency of finding effective and humane solutions to this ongoing crisis.