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Paris takes over investigation into migrant Channel deaths

AFP

Prosecutors in the channel port of Boulogne opened an investigation on Saturday, hours after the tragedy, but the investigation was switched to Paris, officials in both offices told AFP.

Six Afghan men died when a migrant boat thought to have been carrying up to 66 people bound for England sank in the Channel in the early hours of Saturday.

Most of those on board were Afghans with some Sudanese “and a few minors”, said the French coastal authority Premar. British and French coastguard rescued 59 people, but the death toll remains provisional.

Although the sea search was called off at nightfall on Saturday, vessels passing through the Channel Sunday were urged to be vigilant. Premar stressed Sunday: “We don’t know if we’re really looking for anyone.”

On Saturday, France’s junior minister for the sea, Herve Berville, denounced the “criminal traffickers” he said were behind the deaths, promising to fight their smuggling networks.

On Sunday, around 200 people, gathered in Calais to the port to pay tribute to those who had died.

They marched behind a large banner listing the names of the 376 migrants that activists say have died attempting the perilous Channel crossing since 1999.

“These people are dying to general indifference,” said a statement from “Deces” (Death) an alliance of associations who organise the burial or the repatriation of the victims of the crossings.

The statement denounced the government for continually harassing migrants and denying them their basic rights and asked if the authorities in England and France would allow the survivors of Saturday’s shipwreck to be reunited with their families.

 

– Migrants undeterred –

 

Despite the dangers, other migrants camped along the north coast of France, remain determined to attempt the crossing.

“Crossing the Channel, it’s playing with our lives,” Hajji Mahmud said, from one makeshift campsite at Loon-Plage.

But since neither the French nor the British authorities were willing to help, he added: “We’ll suffer until we manage to cross.”

The Channel between France and Britain is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and strong currents are common.

Around 1,000 migrants are on the northern French coast waiting for an opportunity to cross the Channel, according to the authorities.

More than 100,000 migrants have crossed the Channel on small boats from France to southeast England since Britain began publicly recording the arrivals in 2018, official figures revealed on Friday.

French authorities have stepped up patrols and other deterrent measures after London agreed in March to send Paris hundreds of millions of euros annually towards the effort.

The numbers still attempting the crossing have piled pressure on British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government, which has made “stopping the boats” a key priority ahead of general elections due next year.

Last year saw a record 45,000 migrants make the crossing.

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