Home England government Channel tragedy: after dozens of drownings, England and France intensify the war of words

Channel tragedy: after dozens of drownings, England and France intensify the war of words


Ministers on both sides of the Channel blamed their counterparts on Thursday after dozens – including a pregnant woman – drowned in extremely cold water off the coast of France when their inflatable boat bound for Britain has sunk. This is one of the biggest casualties in the Channel in recent years.

The dead include 17 men, seven women and three young people who “could be adolescents”, according to the French prosecution. One of the first rescuers to arrive at the scene, Charles Devos of the National Society for Rescue at Sea (SNSM), said he found the body of a pregnant woman.

The majority of the victims were Iraqi citizens, the director of the French port of Calais, Jean-Marc Puissesseau, told CNN. Likewise, Iraqi Kurds appear to be among the victims, the prime minister of Iraq’s Kurdish regional government said on Thursday. Authorities are working to establish their identity, Masrour Barzani said on Twitter, adding that “our hearts go out to their families.”

French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have both expressed their horror at the tragedy, with Macron saying his country will not let the English Channel become a graveyard. The leaders agreed to step up their joint efforts to prevent migrant crossings – which have increased dramatically this year – but also accused each other of not doing enough.

In a phone call Wednesday night, Macron went further and urged Johnson to stop politicizing the migrant crisis for domestic political purposes, according to a French reading of their conversation.

On Thursday morning, finger pointing continued among young politicians.

The MP for Dover, England, where many migrants arrive from France, told CNN that the deaths in the Channel were “quite predictable”, and presented the problem as a border policing problem whose solution lay in France.

“It was a completely predictable tragedy that sooner or later one of these boats capsized and people died,” Natalie Elphike told CNN near the port of Dover on Thursday.

“People are safe in France, and the best way to keep people safe is to keep them on the ground, not in the hands of smugglers in the middle of the English Channel,” she added.

The British politician added that the French “stand where people get on boats and they don’t stop them. This is where politics needs to change, on the French side.”

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin addressed the press outside a hospital in Calais, northern France, after at least 27 people died off the city's coast.

Meanwhile, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin called for more support from European neighbors, telling RTL radio on Thursday that France cannot be “the only one who can fight smugglers “.

“We say that to our Belgian friends … We say that to our German friends … And we say that to our English friends, that they must help us to fight against the smugglers who are international, who play with the borders Darmanin said.

When asked why the UK attracts so many illegal migrants, Darmanin pointed to UK methods of managing migration and its thriving labor market. “There is clearly mismanagement of immigration in Britain,” he said.

In the coming days, Darmanin will organize meetings to better prevent “arrivals on French soil” from migratory routes from the south, north and east, President Macron told reporters on Thursday. By the time these migrants reach the English Channel, it is “already too late”, he said of the deadly crossing.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at a press conference following a meeting with his Croatian counterpart in Zagreb on Thursday.

Macron said France would continue to use drones and reservists in response to the situation – and would call for further mobilization of British forces. France and the UK must work together to dismantle smuggling networks, he said.

UK Immigration Minister Kevin Foster told the BBC on Thursday that his government was also determined to “crush” the “really evil business model” of human trafficking.

This included seeking to increase smuggling sentences to life imprisonment and improving “safe” immigration routes directly from conflict areas or refugee camps, he said. Foster added that the UK had started paying France $ 72 million in installments to deal with the crisis.

A deadly crossing

Five smugglers have now been arrested in connection with Wednesday’s murderous sea crossing, Darmanin told RTL on Thursday. He added that one of the smugglers arrested Wednesday evening had “German license plates” and “bought these boats in Germany”.

Darmanin said the two survivors of the tragedy are Somali and Iraqi nationals who suffered from “severe hypothermia” and were transferred to hospital in Calais, northern France. Among the 27 dead are five women, and one person is still missing, according to Darmanin.

The narrow waterway between Great Britain and France is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Refugees and migrants fleeing conflict, persecution and poverty in the world’s poorest or war-torn countries risk the dangerous crossing, often in unfit dinghies and at the mercy of smugglers, into the hope to seek asylum or economic opportunities in Britain.

Dozens of dead in the Channel tragedy, after the sinking of an inflatable boat off the French coast

Darmanin said the migrants’ dinghy collapsed and when rescuers arrived it was “deflated like an inflatable garden pool,” according to Reuters.

Despite Wednesday’s tragedy, desperate people continue to make the perilous crossing of the Channel. A group wearing life jackets and blankets were seen huddled together aboard a lifeboat arriving in Dover on Thursday morning, the UK Press Association reported.

Migrants once sought to be smuggled on board trucks that regularly crossed the Channel on ferries or by rail from France. But in recent years, this route has become more expensive, with smugglers charging thousands of euros for each attempt.

So far this year, more than 25,700 people have crossed the Channel to Britain in small boats, according to data compiled by the PA Media news agency – three times the total for all of 2020. On Wednesday alone, French authorities rescued 106 people. adrift in various Channel boats, and more than 200 people made the crossing.

Earlier this month, French sports retailer Decathlon announced it would stop selling kayaks in some stores in northern France, in a bid to prevent people from using them on the dangerous sea crossing to England.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Masrour Barzani. He is the prime minister of the Kurdish regional government in Iraq.

CNN’s Mia Alberti, Mick Krever, Nic Robertson, Mohammed Tawfeeq, Meredith Ruleman and Lindsay Isaac contributed to this report