At least 31 people bound for Britain died Wednesday when their boat sank in the English Channel, in what France’s interior minister called the biggest tragedy involving migrants on the dangerous crossing to date. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 34 people were believed to have been on the boat, the AP reports. Authorities found 31 bodies—including those of five women and a young girl—and two survivors, he said. One person appeared to still be missing. The nationalities of the travelers was not immediately known.
Ever-increasing numbers of people fleeing conflict or poverty are risking the perilous journey in small, unseaworthy craft from France, hoping to get asylum or better opportunities in Britain. A joint French-British search operation for survivors was still under way late Wednesday. Four suspected traffickers were arrested Wednesday on suspicion of being linked to the sunken boat, Darmanin told reporters in the French port city of Calais. The regional prosecutor opened an investigation into aggravated manslaughter, organized illegal migration, and other charges after the sinking.
Lille Prosecutor Carole Etienne, whose office is overseeing the investigation, said officials were still working to identify the victims and determine their ages and nationalities. She said the investigation may involve multiple countries as more information about the passengers emerges. "It’s a day of great mourning for France, for Europe, for humanity to see these people die at sea,” Darmanin said. He called for coordination with the UK, saying “the response must also come from Great Britain.”
(Read more English Channel