British Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted that the teenager’s death marked “an upsetting and tragic loss of a young life.”
“This horrendous incident serves as a brutal reminder of the abhorrent criminal gangs and people smugglers who exploit vulnerable people,” she wrote. “Working together we are determined to stop them.”
A friend of the boy rescued on the same beach early Wednesday morning told authorities their boat had capsized and his friend was missing, prompting a search for the teenager, the Independent reported.
In their comments on social media, neither Schiappa nor Patel elaborated on whether the teenager was attempting to cross the Channel to Britain when he disappeared. But the boy was found in Sangatte, which is located on the northern French coast of the English Channel. Philippe Sabatier, deputy prosecutor of Boulogne-sur-Mer in France, said smugglers did not appear to be involved in the case and that the boys stole the inflatable dinghy they used, the Guardian reported.
“The awful death is a terrible reminder of the human impact of the situation in the English Channel,” Labour lawmaker Nick Thomas-Symonds tweeted.
A growing number of people have attempted to cross the English Channel by sea in recent months, often traveling across the busy shipping lane in crowded dinghies and makeshift boats. On Aug. 6, authorities intercepted a record 235 migrants in single day. More than 4,300 people have crossed the Dover Strait — the narrowest part of the Channel — into Britain so far this year, far exceeding the total number of people who made the same journey in 2019, the Guardian reported.
Earlier this month, an onlooker reportedly attacked a migrant after he crossed the Channel in a small dinghy and landed on a beach in Kent. Conservative lawmaker Natalie Elphicke, who has said such boats should be turned back, warned against “vigilante behavior.”
Steve Valdez-Symonds, program director for refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International U.K., said the teenager’s death Monday demonstrates that people “will ultimately make dangerous journeys if that’s all that’s left to them. And sadly for so many people, that is all that’s left.”
“It’s awful, it’s heartbreaking and it’s tragically not a surprise,” he said. “We can only hope that ultimately governments will change their responses to the people who are making these journeys or else we’re liable to see more deaths and more people hurt.”
Last month, Patel and French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin agreed to create a joint intelligence unit to track human smugglers. Patel tweeted at the time that they discussed “the unsustainable levels of illegal migration across the Channel.”
Human rights advocates have raised alarm that people are turning to this dangerous route only because other options are drying up. If governments target smuggling rings without offering desperate people alternatives, people will continue to try to seek safety and smugglers will continue to profit off them, Valdez-Symonds said.
Sea crossings may be on the rise due to a combination of factors, including the effects of coronavirus lockdowns, increased restrictions on the Channel tunnel and the dismantling of some makeshift migrant camps in France, he added. Authorities are “leaving it essentially to smugglers to address the needs of people,” he said. “This only proliferates, sustains and creates more smuggling activity.”