27 dead trying to cross the Channel from France
Twenty-seven people died during an attempt to cross the Channel from France in the worst accident of a wave of clandestine crossings of small boats that have frayed relations between the French and British authorities.
French officials said they had been alerted to the disaster by the crew of a fishing boat which saw people at sea in the Strait of Dover-Calais.
Although President Emmanuel Macron and French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said they believed the death toll was 31 on Wednesday evening, that number was reduced to 27 overnight, according to a report submitted by the Ministry of the Interior to AFP.
Speaking outside a Calais hospital on Wednesday evening, Darmanin said among the dead were five women and a girl. “It was an extremely fragile boat, and when rescuers arrived the boat had deflated like an inflatable backyard pool.”
He added that four smugglers had been arrested who “we suspect may be directly linked to this trip”.
Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had a conversation on Wednesday evening in which the French president underlined their shared responsibility for dealing with the growing number of perilous border crossings carried out by displaced people, according to a statement released by the Elysee at night.
Macron told Johnson he “expected the British to cooperate fully and refrain from instrumentalizing a dramatic situation for political ends” and “insisted on the need to act with dignity, respect and in a spirit of cooperation in human matters. lives, ”the statement said.
AFP reported that prosecutors in Dunkirk had opened an investigation into possible offenses of human trafficking and aggravated manslaughter. “I mean here that the main culprits for this deplorable situation are the smugglers,” Darmanin said.
Johnson said he was “shocked, dismayed and deeply saddened” by the deaths and said efforts to stop the crossings “had not been enough”.
He added that the smugglers were “getting away with a murder” and that the UK was eager to work with the French government to do more. “This is the offer we are making,” he said.
Macron called for more cooperation between the EU and the UK to tackle human trafficking gangs.
“France will not allow the Channel to become a cemetery,” he said. “Europe and its deep respect for humanity are in mourning.
Macron added that there was a need to speed up efforts to break down criminal gangs with help from the UK, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.
Natacha Bouchart, the mayor of Calais, blamed Britain. “The UK government is to blame,” she said. “I believe that Boris Johnson has, for a year and a half, chosen cynically to blame France.”
The UK and France have had bitter exchanges for years over the number of migrants, many from the Middle East and Afghanistan, seeking to reach the UK from France.
London accused Paris of failing to stem the flow of migrants from the French side of the English Channel, while France blamed the UK for its lax approach to migration and said new arrivals could frequently work illegally in Grande -Brittany.
The spirits had cooled in recent days after a call between Darmanin and Priti Patel, British Home Secretary, and the dismantling of a camp of hundreds of migrants near Dunkirk by the French police.
After Johnson spoke to Macron on Wednesday evening, Downing Street said: ‘They agreed on the urgency of stepping up joint efforts to prevent these deadly crossings and doing everything possible to stop the gangs responsible for killing the lives of people in danger.
“Both leaders made it clear that today’s tragic loss of life was a stark reminder that keeping all options on the table is essential to stop these deadly passages and break the business model of the criminal gangs behind them. . “
The number of people seeking asylum in the UK after crossing the Channel by boat has so far reached 25,700 this year, more than three times the total of 8,469 for all of 2020.
There have been numerous reports of individual deaths. French officials reported this weekend that 31,500 migrants had left the French coast for England since the start of the year.
Of these, 7,800 were rescued and seven died or disappeared. Decathlon, the sports and clothing retailer, said it had stopped selling kayaks in Dunkirk and Calais because they were used for dangerous crossings.
France’s Home Office announced this week it was deploying € 11million in new equipment, including all-terrain vehicles, fast boats and night sights, as part of its deal with the UK to stop the passage of migrants.
This year, smugglers have started using larger inflatable boats, to bring more migrants into a single pass. They also began to launch themselves from a wider range of beaches, sending migrants on longer and more dangerous crossings to escape attempts by French authorities to stop them.
Jean-Marc Puissesseau, president and chairman of the ports of Calais and Boulogne, said the UK and the EU must work together to find a solution to migrant boat crossings.
“All of Europe and the UK, we all have to try to find a solution because there will be more.”
Small boat migration has replaced previous clandestine methods of reaching the UK, such as concealment in trucks, since control over these routes has been stepped up. The previous worst incident involved the drowning of four members of an Iranian Kurdish family off Calais in October last year.
On Wednesday, the crossings in small boats were numerous in very calm weather in the English Channel. Darmanin said 250 people made it through the English Channel on Wednesday, although 671 were prevented from making the trip.
Additional reporting by Sebastian Payne