LONDON, Nov 24 (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday he was “shocked and appalled” by the deaths of at least 31 migrants in the English Channel on Wednesday.
The victims drowned after their dinghy capsized while trying to cross from France to England in the worst disaster on record involving migrants in the waters separating the countries.
“I just want to say I am shocked and appalled and deeply sad by the loss of life that I see in the Channel,” Johnson said.
“My thoughts and sympathies are the victims and their families and it is in an appalling thing that they have suffered. But this disaster underscores how dangerous it is to cross the Channel in this way.”
The number of migrants attempting the Channel, the world’s busiest shipping lane, had jumped in recent months after the British and French governments clamped down on other forms of illegal entry such as hiding in the back of trucks crossing from ports in France.
More migrants left France’s northern shores than usual on Wednesday to take advantage of calm sea conditions, according to fishermen, although the water was bitterly cold.
Johnson said the tragedy showed how vital it was to step up our efforts to break the business model of human traffickers.
The government would “leave no stone unturned to demolish the business proposition of the human traffickers and the gangsters,” he said after he had chaired a meeting of the government’s emergency committee on the crossings.
“We have to work with our French friends, with our European partners across the Channel. I say to our partners now is the time for us all to step up, to work together, to do everything we can to break these gangs who are literally getting away with murder.”
Franck Dhersin, deputy head of regional transport and mayor of Teteghem on the northern French coast told Reuters that the death toll had reached 31 and that two people were still missing.
Reporting by Paul Sandle. Editing by Andrew MacAskill