Over two dozen migrants—including young children—attempting to cross the English Channel from France perished at sea Wednesday, sparking outpourings of grief and renewed demands that both the U.K. government and leaders across Europe end their woeful immigration policies that force desperate individuals and families to risk ever more dangerous and deadly journeys to attain refuge, asylum, or a better life.
“How many more times must we see people lose their life trying to reach safety in the U.K. because of the woeful lack of safe means to do so?”
According to the Guardian:
Pregnant women and three children were among the 27 people, mostly Kurds from Iraq or Iran, who drowned trying to cross the Channel in an inflatable boat, French authorities have said.
Two male survivors, an Iraqi and a Somali, were being treated for exhaustion and hypothermia in a Calais hospital. A criminal investigation has been opened by the public prosecutor in Lille, with four men suspected of “direct involvement” in the attempted crossing arrested on Wednesday and a fifth detained early on Thursday morning.
The bodies were brought into the port of Calais by boat and helicopter through the evening, where volunteers with local migrant aid associations lit candles and held aloft placards reading “How many more?” after the International Maritime Organization described the tragedy as the biggest single loss of life in the Channel since it began keeping records in 2014.
Rights campaigners at Amnesty International U.K. expressed despair but also anger over the loss of life.
‘We are deeply saddened by the loss of these lives,” said Tom Davies, manager of the Refugees Welcome campaign at Amnesty International U.K. “How many more times must we see people lose their life trying to reach safety in the U.K. because of the woeful lack of safe means to do so?”
Steve Valdez-Symonds, the group’s refugee and migrant rights program director, said the deaths in the Channel were “heartbreaking.” Still, as many others said, the events directly resulted from flawed policies in the U.K. and across Europe.
“Something must be done to alleviate the need for people to rely on dangerous journeys and often dangerous people,” Valdez-Symonds tweeted. “But instead, we can expect just more of the same that has led directly to today’s terrible tragedy.”
In response to the deaths, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas tweeted: “My heart goes out to all affected by terrible Channel drownings. When the government closes down safe, legal routes for asylum seekers, they’re pushed into taking dangerous ones. This awful tragedy is an inevitable consequence of cruel, inhumane policies.”
Wednesday’s deaths come as the U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel of the Tory Party faces legal challenges over her proposed plan to intensify border security—including coastal patrols in the Channel—and ratchet up the “hostile environment” policies designed to make it harder to seek asylum in the country.
MP Jeremy Corbyn, former Labour Leader who represents Islington North, also called the events “tragic” and demanded that leaders across Europe end their “hostile” policies towards migrants and refugees.
In a statement, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), a U.K.-based group that advocates for comprehensive and humane reforms to refugee and immigration policy, called the deaths on Wednesday “tragic,” “preventable,” and just the latest clear evidence that urgent action is needed to address the system’s cruelest features.
“We are devastated to learn that 27 people have died in the Channel, trying to reach safety in the U.K.,” the group said. “These were people with hopes and dreams, friends and family. They should never have been put in a position where their only option was to cross a deadly stretch of water.”
“The British public are in agreement that these dangerous crossings need to end—no one wants to see people dying 15 miles off our coastline,” the group continued. “But instead of taking a compassionate and realistic approach, the government is ensuring that the Channel becomes increasingly more dangerous and deadly. Instead of ensuring that people can get to the U.K. safely, the government pursues ever-higher fences and illegal ‘pushbacks’ at sea.”
Zoe Gardner, the group’s director, appeared on the BBC to denounce the policies of U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, including the Home Secretary’s pending proposal to increase spending on border security that she argues will only make the situation worse.
The JCWI called on the Johnson government to end its “posturing and bravado” on migrant rights and instead “accept responsibility for these deaths, and change course now to prevent further loss of life.”