The day after at least 27 people died trying to cross the English Channel when their fragile inflatable capsized during a dangerous voyage, the leaders of France and England vowed to crack down on the migrants, even as they offered a desperate response to one of the most deadly events. disasters in recent years involving migrants trying to cross the narrow waterway separating the two countries.
French officials confirmed that children and a pregnant woman were among the drowned, as crews worked in freezing wind and cold weather to retrieve the bodies and try to identify the dead. Two people, one from Iraq and one from Somalia, were found and taken to a French hospital where they were treated for severe hypothermia.
The tragedy is a stark reminder that, five years after the authorities dismantled the vast migrant camp in Calais, both countries are still struggling to cope with the influx of migrants in the area.
France and Britain have long accused each other of not doing enough to thwart attempts to cross the English Channel. In the wake of Wednesday’s tragedy, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said more efforts are needed to allow joint patrols along the French coast.
And French President Emmanuel Macron said he expects from the British “full cooperation and refraining from using this dramatic situation for political purposes.”
The two leaders spoke on the phone late Wednesday night and, in statements after that, said they had agreed to step up efforts to prevent migrants from crossing one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
Under an agreement between the two countries, the UK pays France to suppress surveillance and patrol crossings.
Mr. Johnson said he was “shocked, appalled and deeply saddened by the loss of life at sea in the English Channel.” But he added: “I also want to say that this disaster underscores how dangerous it is to cross the Channel in this way.”
Mr Macron called for an immediate tightening of border controls and increased repression with other European countries against smugglers.
“France will not allow the English Channel to become a cemetery,” he said in a statement.
The drowning came just days after the French and British authorities agreed on how to do more to reduce the number of people going to sea.
Attempts to reach Britain by small boats have increased in recent years as authorities tightened measures to combat the smuggling of asylum seekers in trucks crossing the ferry or through the Channel Tunnel.
Since the beginning of the year, 47,000 attempts have been made to cross the Channel in small boats and 7,800 migrants have been rescued from shipwrecks, French officials said. Until Wednesday this year, seven people have died or gone missing.
Many migrants – who are often from countries in Africa or the Middle East such as Iraq and Eritrea – see the UK as an ideal destination because they speak English, because they already have relatives or compatriots there, and because they are relatively easy to find outside the home. – the books are working.
But the recent increase in attempts to cross the Channel by boat reflects a shift in the modes of movement of migrants, rather than in numbers, according to migration experts and rights groups, who say there has been a drop in asylum claims overall in the UK this year. …
The crossings were another element of the deteriorating relationship between France and the UK, which also clashed over fishing rights and trade checks following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, as well as the underwater alliance between Australia, the UK and the US that undermined the previous French deal.
On a clear day, the white cliffs of Dover can be seen from France. The English coast can seem alluringly close, and for years it has attracted migrants who have already crossed Europe and hope to reach Britain, where they believe the best opportunities await.
On a dark Tuesday night, nearly three dozen people, including men, women and children, boarded what French officials said were an “extremely fragile” inflatable boat into the strong currents and icy, choppy waters separating the two countries. …
It is one of the busiest shipping routes in the world, and its short length defies the hazards of crossing. The dangers are compounded by the fact that many of those trying to make the journey are assisted by smugglers who pack them into tiny boats that are overcrowded and out of balance.
Gérald Darmanin, French Interior Minister, said authorities believed that about 30 people were thrown onto a fragile vessel, which he likened to “a puddle that you blew up in your garden.”
French media reported that the migrant ship collided with a container ship, although French authorities said the crash was still under investigation.
On Thursday, Mr Darmanin told RTL radio that many of the transitions started out the same way.
“Dozens, sometimes hundreds, of migrants stormed the beach to leave quickly, often at high tide, to get to England in makeshift boats,” he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, a fishing vessel notified the maritime authorities that several people had been seen in the waters off the coast of Calais. Soon ships and helicopters began a search and rescue operation.
Two people, one from Iraq and one from Somalia, were found and taken to a French hospital where they were treated for severe hypothermia. The boat itself was found fully deflated, officials said. As of Thursday morning, it was unclear how many people could still go missing.
And the job of locating the dead was likely complicated by the fact that many migrants get rid of any identity documents before crossing the border. The prosecutor’s office in the city of Lille in northern France, which is investigating the tragedy, said on Thursday that the dead included 17 men, seven women, two boys and a girl. On Thursday, it was still unclear where all the migrants in the group were from.
Mr Darmanin said authorities suspected the ship had been bought in Germany by a smuggler whose car had German license plates. The smuggler and four others have been arrested and are suspected of possible links to the disaster, Mr Darmanin said, although Lille’s prosecutors said no link has yet been established.
Mr Darmanin added that 60 to 70 percent of migrants trying to reach the UK come from Germany or the Netherlands and pass through Belgium to France to try to cross the border quickly.
“The smugglers take them and try to bring them to the beach after a couple of days,” he said. “This is an international problem.”