Channel crossings: the pressure is increasing on the Strait of Pas-de-Calais

Thursday morning, the body of a migrant was found “in a 3.5-meter boat filled with water on a beach in Wissant“, a source close to the investigation told AFP. At his side, two people”in severe hypothermia“were taken to hospital.

The day before, a migrant died, another was reported missing and nearly 800 people were rescued at sea following the sinking of several makeshift boats in the Channel, according to the maritime prefecture.

These rescue operations required the intervention of several ships of the French Navy, stars of the maritime gendarmerie, various units of the SNSM (national sea rescue company) or even two helicopters from the French and Belgian armies.

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All the resources in the area were involved to help people“, affirms Marine Gauthier, communication officer of the maritime prefecture of the Channel and the North Sea, underlining an assessment”very heavy“, “exceptional“. “It is one of the rare times that we have had so many operations with so many people concerned since the beginning of the phenomenon.

The previous years, “over the same period, we observed a decrease in crossing attempts as we approached winter with a drop in temperatures“, says Ms. Gauthier, reporting in recent days”many cases of hypothermia“.

Since the end of 2018, illegal crossings of the Channel by migrants seeking to reach the United Kingdom have exploded: from January to the end of October 2021, the maritime prefecture counts “1,008 occurrences related to attempts or crossings to the United Kingdom by sea involving 24,655 people” dont “5,713 castaways were rescued“.

– 5,713 castaways rescued –

In 2020, crossings and attempted crossings concerned some 9,500 people, compared to 2,300 in 2019 and 600 in 2018.

The phenomenon is not new but we have the impression that it is really exponential. In recent days it has reached enormous proportions and created absolutely dramatic accidents“, reacted to AFP Pierre Roques, coordinator of the Auberge des Migrants.”There was a warm spell before winter, I think that there is a will of people to pass as quickly as possible before the cold weather“, he says.

Securing the border pushes people to find other ways to get through England, it’s not the gates that stop people, they just look for other ways to get through.“, regretted Pauline Joyau, of Utopia 56.

Since a few weeks, “the weather conditions are exceptional on the Strait of Pas-de-Calais, the sea and particularly calm and we see the coasts of England every day“, notes Bernard Barron, president of the SNSM station in Calais.

There are more and more whole families on boats that are not suitable for crossing the Channel. Before, we went to look for four, five people, yesterday we went to look for 42 in Calais, more than 50 in Boulogne-sur-Mer, it’s madness“, adds the lifeguard at sea.

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In mid-August, the sinking of a boat in the English Channel caused the death of an Eritrean migrant. Last year, seven people died in the Strait of Pas-de-Calais after four deaths in 2019.


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