France and Britain spar over illegal migration, after at least 27 drown in English Channel – The Washington Post

By and ,

Kirsty Wigglesworth AP

The cliffs of Dover are seen in the early morning after a small boat incident in the English Channel, in Dover, England, Thursday Nov. 25, 2021.

PARIS — The French government called for more European and British support for its efforts to combat human trafficking in the English Channel after at least 27 migrants drowned while trying to cross from France to Britain on Wednesday.

Speaking on French radio on Thursday morning, French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said “pregnant women, children died.”

French officials had previously said five women and a small girl were among the victims, but an investigation to identify the fatalities and their countries of origin was still ongoing. Two people, from Iraq and Somalia, survived and were being treated for hypothermia, according to Darmanin.

In a phone call with Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday evening, French President Emmanuel Macron “underlined the shared responsibility” and urged the British to “refrain from exploiting a dramatic situation for political purposes,” the Élysée presidential palace said early Thursday.

[At least 27 migrants drown in English Channel, in one of the deadliest incidents on a dangerous route]

During their call, Macron and Johnson agreed to step up joint work and to do everything they can to stop the human traffickers responsible, according to Downing Street. But it was also clear they had different ideas on who was to blame and how to proceed. 

French officials have in the past repeatedly accused Britain of being responsible for a surge in crossings. Darmanin recently singled out British nongovernmental organizations in northern France who “prevent the police and the gendarmerie from working.” He has also blamed Britain for not acting decisively enough against U.K.-based trafficking networks, and for attracting migrants by allowing “irregular workers” to be “employed at low cost.”

Meanwhile, charities and aid agencies on both sides of the channel have long called on the British government to open safe routes to the country. Currently, the migrants who are in France can only apply for asylum in Britain if they are physically there — meaning they have to take deadly risks in rickety boats with people smugglers.

But speaking to British broadcasters on Wednesday, Johnson did not suggest changes to the British immigration system, and instead said Britain was having difficulty in persuading France “to do things in a way that we think the situation deserves.” He has also renewed his calls for France to agree to joint police patrols along the French channel coast. 

Gareth Fuller


A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, England, following a small boat incident in the English Channel, Nov. 25, 2021.

A French lawmaker dismissed the idea that physical help from Britain was the answer. Pierre-Henri Dumont, a lawmaker for Calais, told BBC Radio 4’s Today program on Thursday morning that it wouldn’t work as there was a “question of sovereignty — I’m not sure the British people would accept it the other way round, with the French army patrolling the British shore.”

He said that it wasn’t practical as the coast was too long.  

“I’m not sure that having more police officers or more materials on the French shore will help to stop these crossings because we have 200 or 300 kilometers [120 or 180 miles] of shore to monitor 24/7.

“It only takes 5 to 10 minutes to take a boat and put it at sea filled with migrants, so I’m not sure it is only a question of money and question about the number of men,” he said, echoing reports from French police officers who say they operate under tight rules. French authorities say they only have a limited time window during which they are allowed and able to prevent the crossings — usually after migrants reach the dunes, and before the boats are on the water.

Gonzalo Fuentes


French police stand near as a group of more than 40 migrants run with an inflatable dinghy, to leave the coast of northern France and to cross the English Channel, near Wimereux, France, Nov. 24, 2021.

Licensing of small boats in the area wouldn’t work, said Dumont, as people are buying small boats in Germany or other European countries and bringing them to France.

Instead, Dumont said that the solution was to close migrant camps around the coast, and for the migrants to go to “welcoming centers” where they could apply for asylum in France — or Britain, where many want to come.

The number of asylum applications to Britain is relatively small compared to other countries of similar size in Europe. Migrants who are in France and determined to cross the channel usually have family or other ties to Britain, or speak English, say aid groups.

The British Red Cross called on the British government to reform its asylum system. Mike Adamson, the organization’s chief executive, said “there are no simple answers but we urge the government to rethink its plans for making the U.K.’s asylum system harder to access.”

The worst migrant tragedy in the English Channel in recent years didn’t deter others from attempting to seek refuge in England. In the early hours on Thursday morning, the BBC reported, two boats made the journey across the Channel and came ashore in Dover, England, carrying about 40 people wearing life jackets and wrapped in blankets

Nearly three times as many migrants have crossed by sea this year compared with last year. Johnson said Wednesday that efforts by France to slow the human smuggling, with $70 million in new funding from Britain to help patrol the beaches, “haven’t been enough.”

The dangerous Dover Strait route, where the channel narrows to 21 miles across, is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and dangerous for people in small flimsy boats when hammered by strong currents and high winds.

Francois Lo Presti

AFP/Getty Images

A picture taken on Nov. 25, 2021 shows a torn dingy boat near the beach of Wimereux, on the northern coast of France, from where migrants leave to cross the Channel on inflatable boats in an attempt to reach Britain.

Five suspects who might be connected to the incident had been apprehended, Darmanin said.

One person was thought to be still unaccounted for when a search-and-rescue operation involving ships and helicopters was called off late Wednesday night.

The International Organization for Migration said Wednesday’s drowning amounted to the largest known loss of life in the channel since the U.N.-affiliated group started recording data in 2014. At least 15 other people have died at other locations in 2021, as attempts to cross have increased.

The interior ministers of Britain and France were expected to hold talks on Thursday, but French officials also called for more support from within the European Union.

Macron demanded an “immediate reinforcement” of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency’s resources. In his radio interview Thursday, Darmanin also singled out Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany as countries that are also linked to trafficking networks.

“We need to stop being effectively the only ones who are able to act against traffickers,” he said.

Macron, in a statement on Wednesday, defended French efforts, saying that more than 1,500 traffickers had been caught in the region since the beginning of the year.

French police also regularly clear — in a way that draws complaints from migrants and human rights groups — the makeshift camps on the northern coast, where people gather before attempting to cross the Channel.

Home Secretary Priti Patel recently authorized tough new tactics to push boats back toward France. That policy, however, has not been implemented. Such aggressive moves could violate maritime law and endanger lives, if migrant vessels were unseaworthy and in distress.

Adam reported from London.

Gonzalo Fuentes


A group of more than 40 migrants react as they succeeded to get on an inflatable dinghy, to leave the coast of northern France and to cross the English Channel, near Wimereux, France, Nov. 24, 2021.

Britain threatens to force back migrant boats crossing the Channel, spurring war of words with France

Four years after it became a symbol of Europe’s failures, migrants are still stranded in Calais

Sports retailer stops kayak sales in north France as migrant crossings to Britain rise

Original News Source Link

Leave a Comment