English Channel tragedy

France tells UK not to politicise migration after 27 perish in Channel crossing

Migrants are helped ashore by British lifesavers at a beach in Dungeness, on the south-east coast of England, on November 24, 2021, after being rescued while crossing the English Channel.
Migrants are helped ashore by British lifesavers at a beach in Dungeness, on the south-east coast of England, on November 24, 2021, after being rescued while crossing the English Channel. © BEN STANSALL / AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron has warned against politicising the migrant crisis after 27 people died Wednesday while attempting to cross the English Channel to the UK – in what is the worst such disaster in the Channel, the world's busiest shipping route. Meanwhile, French prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into five suspected people traffickers.

Advertising

During a phone call between Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the French president said France and the UK had a "shared responsibility", adding he expected the British to "cooperate fully and refrain from exploiting a dramatic situation for political ends"

Seventeen men, seven women and three children died when the inflatable boat they were using to cross the Channel from the northern coast of France lost air and sank.

French Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin said that two survivors, an Iraqi and Somali, had been rescued and were recovering from extreme hypothermia. They will later be questioned.

Prosecuting the smugglers

Prosecutors in Lille have opened an investigation for homicide and bodily harm, membership of a criminal gang, and aiding in the illegal crossing of borders, into five people directly linked to the tragic crossing.

Darmanin said the fifth suspect was detained Thursday, suspected of buying inflatable Zodiac boats in Germany that were used for the crossing.

The disaster adds to the ongoing tensions between France and Britain after Brexit, and as a record number of people have been able to successfully make the Channel crossing.

Speaking on RTL radio, Darmanain migration was an “international problem” and called on Britain, Belgium and Germany to do more to help France address it.

But he also blamed the UK for not doing enough to deter migrants who are “often attracted” by Britain's labour market.

"There is poor immigration management [in Britain]," he added.

France, UK at odds on migration crisis

In their phone call Johnson and Macron agreed on the urgency of stepping up joint efforts to prevent the crossings, adding it wasvital to keep "all options on the table" to break smuggling rings.

The UK has been pressing France to do more to stem the number of people crossing.

Johnson blamed France for not adequately patrolling its northern coast, evoking "difficulties" he has had "persuading some of our partners, particularly the French, to do things in a way that the situation deserves".

Johnson repeated an offer to have joint British-French patrols in the waters near Calais, a proposal that France has previously rejected.

And yet, as s public statements heated up, other ministers talked of working together.

“We don't just see this as an issue that France needs to deal with, but one that we want to work together with France and our wider European partners ... to break the business model of these gangs,” said British Immigration Minister Kevin Foster.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel will speak to Darmanin later Thursday.

(With wires)

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning