At least 27 migrants drowned Wednesday after their inflatable dinghy capsized as they tried to cross the English Channel from France.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 34 people were aboard the boat. Two were rescued and one is missing, according to Reuters, in the worst recorded tragedy involving migrants between the two countries.
Without explanation, the Interior Ministry later revised the initial death toll to 27, according to Agence France-Presse. The nationality of the migrants was not immediately clear.
Darmanin said the survivors are suffering from hypothermia.
“It is a catastrophe for France, for Europe, for humanity, to see these people who are at the mercy of smugglers perish at sea,” he said, according to Reuters.
Darmanin said in a tweet that smugglers are responsible.
“The responsibility for this tragedy is above all that of the smugglers, who endanger the lives of men, women and children without any scruples,” he wrote.
French police have arrested four people suspected of some involvement in the drownings and have opened a manslaughter investigation.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex echoed Darmanin’s sentiments.
“My thoughts are with the many missing and injured, victims of criminal smugglers who exploit their distress and injury,” he said, according to the BBC.
French President Emmanuel Macron called on European governments to better address migrant movement across the channel, according to The Washington Post.
“France will not let the Channel become a cemetery,” Macron said in a statement.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson chaired an emergency meeting Wednesday on the tragedy.
“My thoughts and sympathies are with the victims and their families, and it is an appalling thing that they have suffered. But this disaster underscores how dangerous it is to cross the channel in this way,” he said, according to Reuters.
Johnson added that more needed to be done to break up human-trafficking gangs, which he said were “literally getting away with murder.”
The channel is a common crossing for migrants, who have been increasingly using it to reach Britain from France.
The BBC reported that as of Monday, the number of migrants who have reached the United Kingdom by boat in 2021 was three times greater than the 2020 total. Earlier this month, more than 1,000 migrants arrived in a single day.
The channel is also one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, and dinghies can capsize in its strong currents.
French police have succeeded in preventing more crossings in recent years but have only partially mitigated the waves of migrants trying to reach Britain, according to Reuters.
The continued flow of migrants across the channel, and how to address it, has been a source of tension between Britain and France.
Some information for this report came from Reuters and Agence France-Presse.
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