Nov. 24 (UPI) — More than two dozen migrants trying to sail the English Channel to Britain died after their boat capsized off the coast of France, officials said Wednesday.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex said the incident happened off the Calais coast, claiming it may have been organized by human smugglers.
“The shipwreck that occurred in the channel is a tragedy,” Castex said on Twitter, translated by The New York Times. French media said the death toll may be as high as 27.
Annick Girardin, France’s minister for maritime affairs, said a search was underway Wednesday afternoon that included a British patrol ship along with Belgian and British helicopters.
Natacha Bouchart, the mayor of Calais, told French media the incident was a “human tragedy that I regret and that I’ve been fearing ever since I was elected,” according to the New York Times.
“I just want to say that I’m shocked and appalled and deeply saddened by the loss of life at sea in the Channel,” he said.
“I think the details are still coming in but more than 20 people have lost their lives. My thoughts and sympathies are first of all with the victims and their families.
“It’s an appalling thing that they have suffered. But I also want to say that this disaster underscores how dangerous it is to cross the Channel in this way.”
Care4Calais, a charity assisting refugees in northern France, called for a “need [for] a modern system of safe, legal routes enabling refugees to apply for asylum in the UK.”
“After today’s tragedy, the UK asylum system must surely be regarded as intolerable by all reasonable people. On behalf of those who have died, we again urge the government to scrap its anti-refugee bill and introduce a fair, modern system now. For humanity’s sake,” the charity said on Twitter.