At least 27 migrants drown after inflatable boat sinks off French coast in the English Channel

At least 27 migrants died after a boat capsized in the English Channel, off the coast of Calais, northern France, on Wednesday, French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said.

An initial toll said 31 migrants had died but the minister revised this number down to 27 late Wednesday.

Speaking outside a hospital in Calais, Darmanin said five women and a girl were among the dead. Two people were saved and one person is still missing, he said.

Four suspected traffickers accused of being directly linked to the doomed crossing in a long inflatable boat had been arrested, he said, according to AFP.

French President Emmanuel Macron and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson both expressed horror at the tragedy, and sent their condolences to the families of the victims.

Macron said his country would not let the English Channel become a graveyard and urged his European counterparts to increase efforts to avoid future tragedies.

“To the families of the victims, to their loved ones, I want to express my compassion and the unconditional support of France,” the President 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,” he added.

Macron said France had been working with the United Kingdom for several months to dismantle smuggling networks.

“Since the beginning of 2021, thanks to the mobilization of 600 police officers and gendarmes, 1,552 smugglers have been arrested on the northern coast and 44 smuggling networks have been dismantled,” he said.

“Despite this action, 47,000 attempts to cross to Great Britain have been made since January 1, with 7,800 migrants saved by our rescue services.”

British Prime Minister Johnson said he was “shocked and appalled, and deeply saddened by the loss of life at sea.”

“My thoughts and sympathies are, first of all with the victims and their families, and it’s an appalling thing that they have suffered,” Johnson told reporters.

“But I also want to say that this disaster underscores how dangerous it is to cross the Channel in this way. And it also shows how vital it is that we now step up our efforts to break the business model of the gangsters who are sending people to sea in this way, and that’s why it’s so important that we accelerate if we possibly can all the measures contained in our borders … so that we distinguish between people who come here legally, and people who come here illegally.”

He added that the authorities would “leave no stone unturned to the business proposition of the human traffickers and the gangsters … who are literally getting away with murder.”