Five arrested as France, UK vow to act after Channel’s deadliest migrant tragedy | Instant News


Britain and France on Thursday sought new measures to limit migration across the Channel and cut off people-smuggling networks after at least 27 migrants trying to reach Britain drowned off France’s northern coast.

The disaster was deadliest accident since the Strait became a hub for migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia who have increasingly used small boats to reach the UK from France since 2018.

President Emmanuel Macron swears France will not let the Strait become a “graveyard” and also talks to the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to step up efforts to thwart traders blamed for the spike in crossings.

“Europe’s deepest values ​​- humanism, respect for the dignity of each person – are grieving,” Macron said.

Seventeen men, seven women and three minors died when an inflatable boat lost air and fetched water from the northern port of Calais on Wednesday, according to the public prosecutor in Lille. A murder investigation has been opened.

Calais residents come to light candles after migrant tragedy

The disaster also poses new challenges for cooperation between France and the UK after Brexit. Tensions have been rising over record numbers of people crossing, adding to a range of problems that also include fishing rights.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex’s office announced on Thursday that it had invited the European Commission, along with immigration ministers from Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, to a meeting Sunday in Calais to discuss ways to better tackle the problem as a joint force. . . The meeting is expected to “define ways and means to strengthen police, judicial and humanitarian cooperation” to “better fight smuggling networks operating amid migrant flows”, the ministry said.

Minister of Home Affairs Gerald Darmani said a total of five suspected smugglers accused of being directly related to the destined crossing had been arrested, a fifth person suspected of buying an inflatable boat for the crossing.

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

Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart said a pregnant woman was also one of the victims.

‘Persuade our partners’

French officials said earlier three helicopters and three boats had searched the area, finding bodies and unconscious people in the water, after a fisherman sounded the alarm.

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

But he also said Britain had faced “difficulty persuading some of our partners, particularly France, to do things in a way that was appropriate to the situation”.

“A clear response must also come from the UK,” Darmanin said, calling for a “very strong coordinated international response”.

‘A major political issue for Boris Johnson,’ says Angela Diffley of FRANCE 24

In a phone call, Johnson and Macron agreed “the urgency of increasing concerted efforts to prevent these deadly crossings” and that “it is imperative to maintain all options” to break the business model of smuggling gangs, according to Downing Street.

British media reports said the British government wanted to revive the idea of ​​joint Anglo-French patrols on France’s northern coast which Paris had rejected in the past.

Winter warning

One of the French lifeboat workers, Charles Devos, described seeing a “flat and deflated inflatable boat with little air helping it float” surrounded by drowning bodies.

Pierre Roques of the NGO Auberge des Migrants in Calais said the strait risks becoming as deadly as the Mediterranean, which has seen far higher casualties from migrant crossings.

“People are dying in the Channel, which is a graveyard. And because England is on the other side, people will keep crossing,” he said.

According to French authorities, 31,500 people have tried to go to Britain since the start of the year and 7,800 have been rescued at sea, a figure that has doubled since August.

In Britain, Johnson’s Conservative government has come under intense pressure, including from his own supporters, to reduce the numbers.

Darmanin said France had arrested 1,500 smugglers since the start of the year.

He said they “operated like a mafia organization”, using encryption to stop police from eavesdropping on their phone conversations.

Natalie Elphicke, Conservative MP for the Channel Dover port, called the sinking an “absolute tragedy” and pointed to the need to stop crossings at its source.

Charlotte Kwantes of Utopia56, an association that works with migrants in Calais, said “more than 300” migrants had died since 1999 in the area.

“As long as safe passage is not put in place between the UK and France, or as long as these people are unmanageable in France… there will be deaths at the border,” he told AFP.

According to British authorities, more than 25,000 people have arrived illegally so far this year, already three times the figure recorded in 2020.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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