The good weather on Thursday saw more migrants attempting to cross the Channel. 120 migrants were rescued, confirmed the French maritime authorities. One migrant was found unconscious on a sinking boat and flown to hospital by helicopter; he later died.
One Eritrean migrant died on Thursday, August 12, after the boat he was on with 36 other people got into difficulty and sank about 24 kilometers off the coast of Dunkirk. The man, thought to be aged between 25 and 30, was winched off the sinking boat by a Belgian helicopter in an "unconscious" state and later died in hospital in Calais.
His death is the second to be reported in the Channel in 2021, although the first man's body has not yet been found. Six people lost their lives there in 2020.
Nikolai Posner, from the association Utopia 56, which works with migrants in the area, was present at the port as the survivors were brought to land. He told InfoMigrants French that one Eritrean woman was asking where her partner was. She told Utopia 56 that he had "jumped in the water" and she couldn't find him.
Joint Franco-Belgian rescue operation
The boat, said Posner, had engine difficulty and once off shore, the sea became rougher with bigger waves, the boat began to sink. First the migrants threw their belongings in the water, to try and lighten the load, explained Posner, then some of them jumped off the boat too.
The boat in difficulty was first spotted by the crew of a cargo ship in the area called Elena. According to Paris Normandie, the crew phoned CROSS Gris-Nez saying some of those on board were already in the water when the cargo ship approached.
The French rescue coordination services then sent help to the area, including deploying a helicopter from the Belgian navy as well as a French naval ship Flamant. With the help of the helicopter all of the migrants on board are thought to have been safely brought to shore, although operations continued for a while to check for anyone still in the sea, confirmed the authorities in their press release.
According to the news agency Associated Press (AP), some were winched by helicopter from the sea to the French navy ship; others from the sinking ship were rescued by local fishermen and then all were transferred on board the Flamant to be taken to the port of Dunkirk, where they were looked after by the fire and emergency services on land.
Good weather prompts more attempts
Good weather prompted a "flurry" of migrant boats to leave the northern French coast around Calais and Dunkirk on Thursday (August 13), reported the French regional press including La Voix du Nord and Paris Normandie.
The attempted crossings resulted in at least eight separate rescue operations, confirmed the French authorities. In total, the rescue coordination center CROSS Gris-Nez said that they rescued 164 migrants on seven different small boats during the course of Thursday.
The maritime prefecture from the Calais region (Prefecture maritime Manche et mer du Nord) said on Twitter that 164 migrants were rescued. However, in the attached press release from the same authority, the details of eight different rescue operations were listed totaling 120 migrants.
All the boats were reported to the maritime authorities as experiencing various difficulties.
French prosecutor investigates death
Following the death of the migrant, the public prosecutor in Dunkirk has now opened an investigation for manslaughter, endangering other’s lives and aiding illegal entry and illegal stay, reported La Voix du Nord.
On Wednesday, more than 100 people were also rescued from the Channel, including another evacuation of a migrant to a hospital in Dunkirk, according to AP. The numbers of those who have made it across the Channel to the UK this year so far stands at about 10,700 according to data compiled by Britain’s Press Association.
Earlier this summer, Britain agreed to pay France more than €60 million to increase patrols along the French coast in an effort to stop migrants departing towards Britain. French police now patrol day and night and since the spring have also increased the numbers of checks and clearances they make in the informal migrant camps all around Calais.
However, one of the results of these increased controls has been to widen the area where migrants launch their boats still further, with some launching as far south as the neighboring region Normandy, as well as others going to smaller, less-trafficked, beaches towards Belgium or south of Calais towards Boulogne. Launching from these beaches means there is further to travel by sea, since the Channel is wider at this point than the shortest stretch which measures just over 30 kilometers.
More resources requested for Wimereux
Slightly further down the coast, just north of Calais' neighboring port town Boulogne is the small town of Wimereux. The town’s mayor Jean-Luc Dubaele recently made a video appeal via La Voix Du Nord calling on the French government to send more help because of the increased attempts of smuggling gangs to launch boats from Wimereux’s beaches.
Dubaele said that the smugglers were "often armed" and were "dangerous." He complained of the numerous boats found by residents of the town as well as the authorities on the beach and hidden in the dunes.
In order to evade the more frequent checks in Calais and the surrounding area, the mayor said that migrants were beginning to set up informal camps in the dunes around Wimereux. He showed pictures of the rubbish from a recently disbanded camp, and said they were "constantly picking up abandoned boats, petrol, life jackets, and lots of other equipment" used by the migrants in their attempts to cross the stretch of water to the UK.
Dubaele said he wanted to send a "very strong message to the national minister to come and see for themselves what is going on in Wimereux." In addition, he called for strengthened policing and more resources in order to patrol the area and recuperate the boats that they continued to find. "I cannot continue to let the municipal authorities patrol the area and pick up all this stuff," said Dubaele.
"It is very dangerous and they have families. I cannot continue to take the responsibility to let them do this job without some kind of security detail," he concluded.