Channel’s deadliest refugee tragedy sounds alarm bells in France and UK

Channel’s deadliest refugee tragedy sounds alarm bells in France and UK

Britain and France consider new measures to limit migration across the Channel and break down human trafficking networks after at least 27 refugees and migrants – including three children and a pregnant woman – drowned off the north coast of France.
Wednesday’s disaster, the deadliest road accident since the International Organization for Migration (IOM) channel began collecting data on the channel in 2014, has raised humanitarian concerns.

A demonstration under the banner “No More Channel Deaths” will take place Thursday in London in front of the Home Office of the United Kingdom.

President Emmanuel Macron has vowed that France will not allow the English Channel to become a “graveyard” and has spoken with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to agree on stepping up efforts to thwart the traffickers blamed for the increase in crossings.

Prime Minister Jean Castex will hold a crisis meeting with ministers on Thursday to discuss new measures, his office said.

Seventeen men, seven women and three children died when the rubber dinghy lost air and took on water off the northern port of Calais on Wednesday, according to the Lille prosecutor’s office. An investigation for manslaughter has been opened.

IOM says around 200 refugees and migrants have died on the perilous journey so far this year.

The disaster poses a new challenge to cooperation between France and Great Britain after Brexit. Initial statements by both sides assigning responsibility to the other side to act have indicated that the tragedy will not be an automatic catalyst for cooperation. In September, the UK threatened to return migrant boats to France.

Home Secretary Gerald Darmanin said a total of five suspected traffickers accused of being directly linked to the doomed crossing had been arrested, with the fifth man on suspicion of purchasing inflatable boats.

Darmanin said two survivors recovering from hypothermia, an Iraqi and a Somali, had been found and would eventually be questioned.

The mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, said a pregnant woman was among the victims.

More and more people making the perilous journey across the Channel have been brought ashore following Thursday’s tragedy.

A group of people wearing life jackets and wrapped in blankets were seen huddled together aboard a Royal National Lifeboat Institution or RNLI lifeboat before disembarking in Dover on Thursday morning.

Regarding Wednesday’s incident, three helicopters and three boats searched the area, finding corpses and unconscious people in the water, after a fisherman sounded the alarm.

The boat had left the coast of Dunkirk before encountering difficulties off Calais in the west, said a source close to the investigation.

Johnson said he was “shocked, dismayed and deeply saddened by the loss of life at sea”, following a crisis meeting with senior officials.

But he also said Britain had encountered “difficulty in persuading some of our partners, especially the French, to do things in a way the situation deserves”.

In telephone interviews, Johnson and Macron agreed on “the urgency of stepping up joint efforts to prevent these deadly crossings” and that “it is vital to keep all options on the table” to break down the business model of smuggling gangs, according to Downing. Street.

In a terse reading of the talks, the Elysee Palace said Macron told Johnson that France and the UK have a ‘shared responsibility’ and added that he ‘expected the British to cooperate fully and refrain from exploiting a dramatic situation for political ends ”.

British media have said the British government is keen to revive an idea of ​​joint Franco-British patrols on the coast of northern France, which has in the past been rejected by Paris.

One of the French lifeboat workers, Charles Devos, described seeing “a flat, deflated inflatable boat with what little air was left to help it float” surrounded by the bodies of drowned people.

Pierre Roques, of the non-governmental organization (NGO) Auberge des Migrants in Calais, said the English Channel risked becoming as deadly as the Mediterranean, which has seen a much higher toll of migrant crossings.

“People are dying in La Manche, which is becoming a cemetery. And since England is right in front, people will continue to cross, ”he said.

According to France, 31,500 people have tried to leave for Britain since the start of the year and 7,800 people have been rescued at sea, figures which have doubled since August.

According to British authorities, more than 25,000 undocumented migrants have arrived so far this year, already triple the number recorded in 2020.


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