Europe 1 with AFP / Photo credit: Handout / Marine Nationale / AFP 19:14 p.m., August 12, 2023

"A terrible human drama": six Afghan exiles died Saturday in the sinking of a boat of sixty migrants trying to reach England, and one to two missing passengers remain sought, the government pointing to the responsibility of "criminal" smugglers.

"This shipwreck is a terrible human tragedy," lamented on the port of Calais, epicenter of the rescue, the Secretary of State for the Sea, Hervé Berville. He pointed to "the responsibility of criminal traffickers" who send migrants "to death", committing to a "relentless struggle" against these networks.

The six people who died are Afghan men, aged in their thirties, according to the prosecutor's office of Boulogne-sur-Mer, seized of the investigation. The passengers were almost overwhelmingly Afghans, with some Sudanese, and included "a few minors". In total, 61 survivors were rescued, according to Berville, by the French and British coastguards, in an "exemplary cooperation".

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According to the maritime prefecture of the Channel and the North Sea (Premar), "two people maximum could still be missing" and remained wanted in the early evening, the operation mobilizing two ships, a helicopter and a French plane.

One of the victims had been evacuated in the morning by helicopter to the hospital in Calais, the other five taken care of by the boat Notre-Dame du Risban of the National Society for Sea Rescue.

"It will never stop"

"It's quite hard, they are humans", "we will never get used to bringing back the dead", said on the port the boss of the boat of the SNSM, Regis Holy. But "there will still be other tragedies", migrants "want to pass, they try everything for the whole, they have given everything", and "it will never stop", he predicted.

"My thoughts are with the victims," Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on X (ex-Twitter), hailing the "commitment" of rescue teams. "My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this tragic loss," British Home Secretary Suella Braverman said.

The boat sank off Sangatte, in the Pas-de-Calais, "around 2:00", according to the prosecutor's office, in calm seas. Reported "at the end of the night", by a commercial vessel, it was located sinking "in the early morning" by a patrol boat, detailed the Premar.

The boat, "probably an inflatable boat unsuitable" for the crossing, will be appraised, according to the prosecutor's office. He was recovered "punctured," Holy said. Firefighters and police had mobilized from the beginning of the morning on the port of Calais, where mortuary vans took care of the victims. The survivors were installed in a prefectural emergency reception room.

Dangerous "repression"

A spokesman for the Utopia56 association supporting migrants, pointed to AFP "repression" at this border, which "increases the dangerousness of crossings". The Salam association said it was "horrified", denouncing a "lack of courage" on the part of the authorities on the migration issue.

About a thousand migrants are currently waiting on the northern coast of the France for passage, according to authorities. Since Wednesday evening, attempts to cross had multiplied, with the return of good weather. London recorded 755 arrivals on Thursday, a daily record since the beginning of the year.

According to a count by AFP, more than 100,000 migrants have crossed the Channel since the development of the phenomenon of "small boats" in 2018, in response to the lockdown of the port of Calais and the Channel Tunnel.

45,000 people successfully crossed the Channel in 2022

In 2022, a record year, 45,000 people successfully made the crossing, despite the dangers incurred in the Strait of Pas-de-Calais, one of the busiest in the world, and the death in November 2021 of at least 27 migrants, aged 7 to 46, in the deadliest shipwreck recorded in the area.

In 2022, five migrants still died at sea and four went missing. As part of the judicial investigation opened into the 2021 shipwreck, eleven alleged smugglers and seven soldiers - five of the Cross Gris Nez and two crew members of the patrol boat "Le Flamant" - are indicted.

The tragedy had increased tension between Paris and London, which have since agreed to strengthen the means of rescue and their fight against this migratory traffic, against which the British government has also redoubled its firmness.