At least 31 people have died after overturning boat carrying migrants between France and Britain in the English Channel
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
At least 27 migrants have died trying to cross France to Britain in a small boat. Thousands of people have tried to reach the UK to seek asylum, despite efforts by French and UK authorities to arrest them. A number of people have died in the dangerous waters of the English Channel. But it was the worst incident since the crossings began more than two years ago.
Journalist Rebecca Rosman is now joining us from the French Channel port of Calais. Rebecca, thanks for being here. Just tell us what we know about what happened.
REBECCA ROSMAN, BYLINE: So what we do know is that around 2 p.m. yesterday, rescuers received a call from a fisherman who said he spotted about 15 bodies floating in the water just off the coast of the Calais coast. Rescuers say they arrived on the scene within 15 minutes but the majority of the victims were already dead. The prosecutors opened an investigation to find out, you know, what exactly happened. But they think that, of course, has something to do with the victims traveling in a small inflatable boat. And the boat was completely deflated when rescuers arrived at the scene.
Two people were saved. And this morning, authorities identified the survivors as Somali and Iraqi. They were immediately hospitalized and treated for severe hypothermia. The French Minister of the Interior, however, spoke in front of the hospital where they are being treated last night, and he stressed that their condition remained critical.
MARTIN: It’s a sinister story, isn’t it? And many of us remember hearing these stories over and over again a few years ago, especially when it came to refugees outside of Syria. But it’s important to remember that this always happens, doesn’t it? Can you tell us about the deceased?
ROSMAN: We know that at least 17 victims were men. Seven were women. And that – unfortunately, that includes a woman who was pregnant. There were also three children among the dead. And we don’t know their exact nationalities, but French media report that at least a handful were from Middle Eastern countries. Many migrants who have tried to reach the UK in recent months include people from countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea.
MARTIN: Why the desperation to reach the UK, Rebecca? I mean you spoke to a lot of migrants in your larger reporting of this story. But they were in France, right? Like, France is a stable and peaceful place with social benefits for migrants and refugees.
ROSMAN: Yes. You know, I think – well, some of it just – first of all, it has to do with practicality, doesn’t it? Lots of these people – they probably already speak some amount of English. Or maybe they have family in the UK they are trying to reach. I also think there is maybe this kind of unrealistic dream that life in UK is somehow better – isn’t it? – like, that there are more opportunities for them there, that it is easier to find work or to put their papers in order. Lots of people have also told me that they just don’t feel welcome in France, not only because they don’t speak the language, but also because there are regular evacuations from migrant camps here. in Calais. Human rights groups have accused police of harassing migrants in the area, of pitching tents, restricting their food or water. And they see the UK as a last resort.
I spoke with a taxi driver here who told me he fully understood why these people wanted to go to UK. He said on a clear day you can see the English coast from here. So it’s almost tangible to them, right? Many people have been traveling on foot for months or even years. And this they see as their last frontier.
MARTIN: What are the two governments going to do – in France and the UK – to prevent this from happening?
ROSMAN: So there’s been this kind of uncomfortable cooperation between the UK and France, where the UK is trying to get the French government to keep people in France, by paying – over the summer, the British government paid 73 million dollars for France to double its number of patrols along the French coasts. And the two governments are still in talks on joint patrols.
MARTIN: Okay. Rebecca Rosman, who is at the French Channel port of Calais – thank you for your reporting.
ROSMAN: Thank you.
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