British and French leaders intensified the war of words over dangerous crossings in the English Channel after at least 31 people died on Wednesday’s sea journey, bringing to the fore tensions simmering in the migration crisis.
On Thursday, ministers on both sides of the English Channel blamed their colleagues after dozens of people – including a pregnant woman – drowned in extremely cold waters off the French coast when their inflatable ship was bound for Britain. sank. It is one of the biggest losses of human life in the English Channel in recent years.
Among the dead are 17 men, seven women and three young people who “may be teenagers”, according to the French prosecution. One of the first rescuers to arrive at the scene, Charles Devos of the Société Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer (SNSM), said he found the corpse of a pregnant woman.
Most of the victims were Iraqi citizens, the director of the French port of Calais, Jean-Marc Puissesseau, told CNN. Likewise, Iraqi Kurds appear to be among the victims, the prime minister of the Kurdish regional government in Iraq said on Thursday. Authorities are working to establish their identities, Masrour Barzani posted on Twitter, adding that “our thoughts are with their families.”
French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed horror at the tragedy, with Macron saying their country would not let the English Channel become a cemetery. The leaders agreed to step up joint efforts to prevent migrant crossings – which have increased dramatically this year – but they also accused themselves of not doing enough.
In a phone call Wednesday night, Macron went further and urged Johnson to stop politicizing the migrant crisis for domestic political gain, according to a French reading of his conversation.
On Thursday morning, the accusations continued among the politicians.
The Member of Parliament from Dover, England, where many migrants arrive from France, told the CNN that the English Channel deaths were “totally predictable” and cast the problem as an issue of border policing whose solution lay in France.
“It was a totally predictable tragedy that sooner or later one of these boats would capsize and people would die,” Natalie Elphike told CNN near the port of Dover on Thursday.
“People are safe in France, and the best way to keep them safe is to keep them on the coast, not in the hands of smugglers in the middle of the English Channel,” she added.
British policy added that the French “are where people get on boats and don’t stop them. That’s where the policy needs to change, on the French side.”
Meanwhile, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has called for more support from European neighbors, telling radio station RTL on Thursday that France cannot be “the only person fighting the smugglers.”
“We say this to our Belgian friends… We say this to our German friends… And we say this to our English friends, that they must help us fight the smugglers who are international, who play with the borders,” said Darmanin.
Asked why the UK attracts so many illegal immigrants, Darmanin pointed to British methods of migration management and its thriving labor market. “Obviously, there is immigration mismanagement in Britain,” he said.
In the coming days, Darmanin will hold meetings to better prevent “arrivals on French soil” from the southern, northern and eastern migration routes, President Macron told reporters on Thursday. By the time these migrants reach the English Channel, “it’s too late,” he said of the deadly crossing.
Macron said France will continue to use drones and reservists in response to the situation – and will seek extra mobilization of UK forces. France and the UK must work together to dismantle smugglers’ networks, he said.
Meanwhile, UK Immigration Minister Kevin Foster told the BBC on Thursday that his government is also determined to “destroy” the “really wicked business model” of smuggling people.
This included increasing smuggling sentences to life imprisonment and improving “safe” immigration routes directly from conflict zones or refugee camps, he said. Foster added that the UK had started paying France $72 million in installments to tackle the crisis.
a deadly crossing
Five people smugglers have already been arrested in connection with Wednesday’s deadly sea crossing, Darmanin told RTL on Thursday. He added that one of the smugglers arrested Wednesday night had “German plates” and “bought these boats in Germany.”
Darmanin said the two survivors of the tragedy are Somali and Iraqi citizens who suffered “severe hypothermia” and were transferred to a hospital in Calais, northern France. Among the 31 dead are five women, with one person still missing, according to Darmanin.
The narrow waterway between Great Britain and France is one of the busiest sea routes in the world. Refugees and migrants fleeing conflict, persecution and poverty in the poorest or war-torn countries run the risk of a dangerous crossing, often in boats unsuitable for travel and at the mercy of smugglers, hoping to seek asylum or economic opportunities in the Great Britain.
Darmanin said the migrants’ boat capsized and, when rescue workers arrived, it was “empty like an inflatable garden pool,” according to Reuters.
Despite Wednesday’s tragedy, desperate people continue to make the perilous journey across the English Channel. A group in life jackets and blankets were seen huddled aboard a lifeboat arriving in Dover on Thursday morning, the UK Press Association reported.
In the past, migrants sought to smuggle into trucks that regularly crossed the English Channel on ferries or trains from France. But in recent years this route has become more expensive, with smugglers charging thousands of euros for each attempt.
This year, more than 25,700 people crossed the English Channel to Britain in small boats, according to data compiled by the PA Media news agency – three times the total for the entire year in 2020. On Wednesday alone, authorities French women rescued 106 people adrift in various boats in the English Channel, and more than 200 people made the crossing.
Earlier this month, French sports retailer Decathlon announced it would stop selling kayaks in some stores in northern France in an attempt to prevent people from using them to make the dangerous sea crossing to England.
With collaboration of: Mia Alberti, Mick Krever, Nic Robertson, Mohammed Tawfeeq, Meredith Ruleman and Lindsay Isaac
* (Translated text. Click here to read the original).