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At least 31 people have died after a migrant boat between France and Britain capsized in the English Channel.



RACHEL MARTIN, host:

At least 27 migrants have died while trying to cross from France to Britain in a small boat. Thousands of people have tried to arrive in the UK to seek asylum, despite efforts by French and British authorities to stop them. A number of people have died in the treacherous waters of the English Channel. But this is the worst incident since the crossings began more than two years ago.

Journalist Rebecca Rosman joins us now from the port of the French canal of Calais. Rebecca, thank you for being here. Just tell us what we know about what happened.

REBECCA ROSMAN, BYLINE: So what we do know is that around 2pm yesterday, rescue workers got a call from a fisherman who said he noticed about 15 bodies floating in the water off the coast of Calais. Rescue workers say they arrived at the scene within 15 minutes, but most of the victims were already dead. Prosecutors have opened an investigation to find out, you know, exactly what happened. But they think this, of course, has to do with the fact that the victims were traveling in a small inflatable boat. And the ship was completely blown up when rescue crews arrived at the scene.

Two people were rescued. And this morning, authorities identified the survivors as a Somali and an Iraqi. They were rushed to hospital and are being treated for severe hypothermia. The French Interior Minister spoke last night outside the hospital where they are being treated, but stressed that their condition remains critical.

MARTIN: It’s a bleak story, isn’t it? And many of us remember hearing about these stories over and over again a few years ago, especially when it came to refugees from Syria. But it’s important to remember that this is still happening, right? Can you tell us about the people who died?

ROSMAN: We know that at least 17 victims were male. Seven were female. And that – unfortunately, involves a woman who was pregnant. Among the dead were three children. And we do not know their exact nationality, but the French media report that at least a handful were from Middle Eastern countries. Many migrants trying to reach the UK in recent months include people from countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea.

MARTIN: Why the desperation to get to the UK, Rebecca? I mean you have talked to a lot of immigrants in your wider reporting on this story. But they were in France, right? Like, France is a stable, peaceful country with social benefits for migrants and refugees.

ROSMAN: Yes. You know, I think – well, just a part – first of all, it’s about practical reasons, right? Many of these people – they already probably speak a certain amount of English. Or maybe they have families in the UK that they are trying to reach. I also think maybe there is such an unrealistic dream that life in the UK is somewhat better – right? – how, that there are more opportunities for them there, that it is easier to find work or arrange their documents. Many people have also told me that they simply do not feel welcome in France, not only because they do not speak the language, but also that there are regular evacuations of immigrant camps here in Calais. Human rights groups have accused police of harassing migrants in the area, cutting down tents, restricting food or water for them. And they see the UK as a last resort.

I spoke to a taxi driver here, who told me he fully understood why these people want to go to the UK. He said that on a clear day you can see the English coastline from here. So that’s almost tangible to them, right? Many people have traveled on foot for months, if not years. And this, they see as their last frontier.

MARTIN: What will the two governments – in France and the UK – do to prevent this from happening?

ROSMAN: So there has been some kind of unpleasant co-operation between the UK and France, where the UK is trying to force the French government to keep people in France by paying – over the summer, the UK government paid $ 73 million to double France its number. patrols along the French coastline. And both governments are still in talks on joint patrols.

MARTINI: OK. Rebecca Rosman, which is in the port of the French canal of Calais – thank you for your reporting.

ROSMAN: Thank you.

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