While shaking his head about the tragedy, he pointed out that other methods of smuggling, such as hiding on a truck, were also dangerous. “You could break a leg,” he said. “You can die.”
And as dangerous as the sea voyage might prove, it seemed to many migrants to be safer than other options. The only thing preventing it is the cost, which he had heard was 1,200 euros ($1,350).
“We don’t have any money,” Yasir said. “If I had money, I’d go to the boat.”
Police cracked down on local boat purchases, and the larger inflatables started to show up, hauled by the dozens inside cars and vans with German and Belgian tags, police said. France’s interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, said a car with German tags was seized in connection with the investigation.
Police raids on the camps to pull down tents and disrupt operations have given smugglers yet another chance to make money, said Nikolai Posner, of the aid group Utopia 56. Now, the fee includes a short-term tent rental and access to basic food, usually cooked over an open fire.
“There is one solution to stop all this, the deaths, the smugglers, the camps. Make a humanitarian corridor,” said Posner. He said asylum requests should be easier on both sides of the Channel.
In part because of Brexit and coronavirus, expulsions from the U.K. this year dropped to just five people, according to the Home Office. Vu said people who are intercepted at sea or land by British border forces end up in migrant centers, but usually just get back in touch with the smuggling networks and end up working black market jobs.
That’s the complaint in France, where the interior minister said British employers appear more than happy to hire under the table, providing yet another financial incentive.
“If they’re in Calais, it’s to get to Britain, and the only people who can guarantee them passage are these networks of smugglers,” said Ludovic Hochart, a Calais-based police officer with the Alliance union. “The motivation to get to England is stronger than the dangers that await.”
On Sunday ministers from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and EU officials will meet to search for solutions. But, with France and Britain at sharp odds over migration, fishing and how to rebuild a working relationship after Brexit, there is one notable absence: a British delegation.
For Vu, that’s a missed opportunity: “This is transnational crime. It spans many borders and it’s not up to only one country to solve it.”