Five arrested as France and the United Kingdom vow to act after the deadliest tragedy of migrants in the English Channel

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Britain and France were on Thursday discussing new measures to limit migration through the English Channel and disrupt human smuggling networks after at least 27 migrants trying to reach England drowned off the northern coast of France. .

The disaster is the deadliest accident since the English Channel became a hub for migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia who have been using more and more small boats to reach England from France since 2018.

President Emmanuel Macron promised that France would not allow the English Channel to become a “graveyard” and also spoke with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to agree to step up efforts to thwart traffickers blamed for the increase in crossings. .

“It is the deepest values ​​of Europe – humanism, respect for the dignity of each person – those who are in mourning,” Macron said.

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

Seventeen men, seven women and three minors were killed when the inflatable boat lost air and took on water off the northern port of Calais on Wednesday, according to public prosecutors in Lille. An investigation for involuntary manslaughter has been opened.

Calais locals attend candlelight vigil after migrant tragedy

The disaster also poses a new challenge for cooperation between France and Britain after Brexit. Tensions had already risen over the record number of people crossing, adding to a litany of issues that also include fishing rights.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said a total of five suspected traffickers accused of being directly related to the condemned crossing had been arrested, the fifth suspected of purchasing inflatable boats for the crossing.

Darmanin said that only two survivors, an Iraqi and a Somali, had been found, who 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 previously said that three helicopters and three boats searched the area and found bodies and unconscious people in the water, after a fisherman raised the alarm.

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

But he also said Britain had faced “difficulties in persuading some of our partners, particularly the French, to do things the way the situation deserves.”

“The response obviously must also come from Britain,” Darmanin said, calling for “a very tough coordinated international response.”

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

British media reports said the UK government is eager to revive an idea of ​​joint British-French patrols off the coast of northern France that had in the past been rejected by Paris.

Winter warning

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

Pierre Roques of the NGO Auberge des Migrantes in Calais said the Canal risks becoming as deadly as the Mediterranean, which has suffered a much higher toll from migrant crossings.

“People are dying in the Canal, which is becoming a graveyard. And as England is right in front, people will continue to cross,” he said.

According to French authorities, 31,500 people tried to leave for Britain since the beginning of the year and 7,800 people have been rescued at sea, figures that doubled since August.

In Britain, Johnson’s Conservative government is coming under intense pressure, including from its own supporters, to cut the numbers.

Darmanin said France had arrested 1,500 human traffickers since the beginning of the year.

He said they “operate like mafia organizations”, using encryption to prevent police from tapping into their phone conversations.

Natalie Elphicke, a Conservative MP for the Dover Canal Port, called the sinking “an absolute tragedy” and demonstrated the need to stop crossings at their source.

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

“As long as safe passages are not established between England and France, or while these people cannot be regularized in France … there will be deaths at the border,” he told AFP.

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

(AFP)