31 Migrants Die in English Channel After Boat Launched from France Capsizes

A boat of migrants heading for Britain capsized in the English Channel in what is being called the "biggest tragedy" involving immigration in the crossing.

The boat, which launched from France, had 34 people on board when it capsized in the dangerous crossing. According to the Associated Press, a French naval ship had spotted bodies floating in the water of both deceased victims and injured survivors. So far, 31 people had died, two have survived, and one passenger is still missing.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin visited the survivors in a Calais hospital, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was "shocked, appalled and deeply saddened" by the tragedy. The AP also said that Johnson had convened a crisis committee meeting to determine what to do next.

The English Channel is considered to be one of the most dangerous ocean crossings in the world, while also being a regularly-suggested migrant path by traffickers. More than 25,700 people had crossed the English Channel this year--more than three times than in all of 2020. However, not everyone is able to make it to British shores; authorities have been rescuing thousands of immigrants in rescue missions over the past few weeks.

"How many more times must we see people lose their life trying to reach safety in the UK because of the woeful lack of safe means to do so?" said Tom Davies of Amnesty International U.K. He serves as the organization's refugee and migrant rights campaign manager.

"We desperately need a new approach to asylum," he continued, "including genuine Anglo-French efforts to devise safe asylum routes to avoid such tragedies happening again."

The identities and nationalities of the passengers on board have not been released.

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

31 migrants died and others were injured November 24, 2021, when their boat capsized off Calais in the English Channel as they tried to cross from France to Britain, authorities said. British and French authorities were searching the area using helicopters and coast guard vessels, according to the French maritime agency for the region. Above, French police officers patrol on the beach in the search for migrants in Wimereux, northern France on November 17, 2021. AP Photo/Louis Witter, File

A joint French-British operation to search for survivors was still under way Wednesday evening.

While the incident was the deadliest day in the channel to date, Darmanin noted other deadly incidents in the past and lashed out at "criminal traffickers" driving thousands to risk the crossing.

The two governments have long been at odds over how to prevent the increasingly dangerous migrant crossings, with both sides blaming the other for not doing enough.

Three French patrol boats were joined by a French helicopter and a British helicopter in searching the area, according to the French maritime agency for the region.

Jean-Marc Puissesseau, head of the ports of Calais and Boulogne, told the Associated Press that he spoke to one of the rescuers who brought some of the bodies to the Calais port.

"Traffickers are assassins," he said. "We were waiting for something like this to happen."

While deaths are occasionally reported on the crossing, such a large number of people losing their lives in one boat is rare.

People fleeing conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea and Sudan have been among those gathered along towns in northern France seeking to cross to Britain.

"Strong emotion after the drama of numerous dead in the sinking of a boat of migrants in the channel," Darmanin tweeted. He slammed migrant smuggling networks that organize such journeys.

The Dunkirk prosecutor's office said it opened an investigation for aggravated manslaughter in the wake of the tragedy.

With changeable weather, cold seas and heavy maritime traffic, the crossing is dangerous for the inflatables and other small boats that men, women and children squeeze into.

Johnson said more needed to be done to "break the business model of the gangsters who are sending people to sea in this way."

A Royal National Lifeboat Institution lifeboat carrying migrants approaches a beach in Dungeness on the southeast coast of England on November 24, 2021, after they are picked up crossing the English Channel. The past three years have seen a significant rise in attempted Channel crossings by migrants, despite warnings of the dangers in the busy shipping lane between northern France and southern England, which is subject to strong currents and low temperatures. Photo by Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images