The National - News

France calls emergency talks after 27 migrants die in Channel


France has called emergency talks with Britain and its EU neighbours after the deaths of 27 migrants in the English Channel this week.

Sunday’s summit of interior ministers in Calais, close to where the migrants set off on their doomed journey, will take place amid calls for greater European co-operation against the smugglers blamed for the tragedy.

Wednesday’s disaster was the worst on record in the Channel and comes after months of regular crossings by migrants in small boats, raising the political temperatur­e on both sides of the water.

Britain, which finances patrols on France’s northern coast, told Paris to “step up” those efforts and suggested that UK border police should be sent to join them.

But French Prime Minister Jean Castex sought to shift the blame from France by saying that most of the migrants heading for the Channel are only briefly on its territory.

The five smugglers arrested after the shipwreck were stopped at the border with Belgium and had bought some of their equipment in Germany, he said.

“It is therefore a problem requiring an inter-government­al and European approach,” he said.

The talks on Sunday should “make it possible to define the ways and means of strengthen­ing police, judicial and humanitari­an co-operation”, he said.

Mr Castex has invited immigratio­n ministers from the UK, Germany, Belgium, the Netherland­s and the EU to the Calais summit.

Priti Patel, the UK’s Home Secretary, likewise called for internatio­nal efforts but asked for an “honest assessment” from France on whether its patrols were falling short.

The UK has provided £54 million ($72m) in financial support but has made clear with Paris its frustratio­n that so many people are still getting across.

A young girl and five women, including at least one who was pregnant, were among 27 people who drowned in the English Channel while trying to reach Britain.

The migrants – most of whom are believed to be from Iraq and Somalia – perished at sea in busy shipping lanes.

Reports from the French side said the boat was struck by a container ship.

The death toll from the tragedy was initially reported to be 34 on Wednesday but was later revised down to 27.

France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin suggested that more than one of the female victims were pregnant and that more than one child were among the deceased.

He claimed migrants are often attracted by the British labour market, which allows them to be exploited by smugglers.

“There were pregnant women, children who died yesterday on that boat … and for a few thousand euros they promise them ‘El Dorado in England,’” he told French radio network RTL. “And, sadly, this has been repeated every day for the last 20 years.”

Paris has called a meeting of European officials to co-ordinate action on migrants making their way to its shores bound for the UK. Mr Darmanin called for Britain and other European countries to step up in the fight against smuggler networks.

“France must stop being the only one to fight against smugglers,” he said.

Early on Thursday, the risky crossings continued. About 40 people were seen arriving in Dover, the BBC reported, as mild weather and calm seas offered smugglers an opportunit­y to send boats from French shores.

Wednesday’s tragedy was the highest recorded number of migrant deaths to happen in the Channel since the Internatio­nal Organisati­on for Migration began collecting data in 2014.

The small boat was thought to have been hit by a container ship, reported La Voix du Nord, a newspaper in northern France.

Charles Devos, regional manager of the SNSM lifeboat associatio­n, described seeing bodies floating around a boat as “very shocking”.

He said he recovered six people from the boat including a woman who said she was pregnant and a young man aged between 18 and 20.

A pregnant woman was among six people rescued from a flimsy dinghy by French rescuers who were some of the first people on the scene.

French President Emmanuel Macron reacted to the tragedy by vowing that the English Channel must not become a “cemetery” for those travelling in search of a new life.

“It is Europe’s deepest values – humanism, respect for the dignity of each person – that are in mourning,” he said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson chaired an emergency meeting with ministers to discuss how to stem the flow of boats across the Channel.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the UK had offered to send police to patrol beaches in northern France amid concerns the French authoritie­s are not doing enough to stop migrants from leaving.

Pierre-Henri Dumont, National Assembly member for Calais, said France could not accept foreign police officers on its territory.

“No, that wouldn’t work,” he said. “To monitor the shore we will need thousands of people and there is also a question of sovereignt­y.

“I’m not sure if the British people would accept the other way around, if the French army was patrolling the British shore.”

He said it took only five to 10 minutes to launch a dinghy into the sea, making it impossible for police to prevent all crossings.

Mr Dumont said any migrants intercepte­d should be directed to “welcoming centres” and it should be mandatory for migrants to claim asylum in France, rather than voluntary.

He also said there should be the opportunit­y to apply for asylum in the UK without yet reaching the country.

However, Bruno Bonnell, an MP for Mr Macron’s centre-right party, said joint UK-France police patrols on beaches in northern France could work.

Britain’s Immigratio­n Minister Kevin Foster said the UK was prepared to send people to France to help.

Asked by the BBC how the UK’s approach was likely to change after the tragedy, Mr Foster said: “The first thing, is working with France.

“We have offered resources, we are happy to support their operations on the beach.

“We have already agreed £54 million [$72m], we’re happy to look at doing more.”

Britain’s Immigratio­n Minister Kevin Foster said the UK was prepared to send people to France to help

 ?? Reuters ?? Migrants are brought ashore to the UK by lifeboat staff, police and Border Force officers, after having crossed the Channel
Reuters Migrants are brought ashore to the UK by lifeboat staff, police and Border Force officers, after having crossed the Channel

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Arab Emirates