By Susy Hodges
France and Britain have vowed to step up cooperation to stop illegal crossings after at least 27 migrants died off the coast of Calais on Wednesday. The victims included a pregnant woman, three children whilst four other people are missing, presumed drowned. The accident is the worst tragedy of its kind in the Channel involving migrants trying to reach England by small boats. SH reports.
The sinking of the inflatable dinghy off the coast of Calais comes as record numbers of migrants have attempted to cross the Channel in flimsy boats from France to Britain this year. It’s a perilous crossing as the narrow strait of water is the world’s busiest shipping lane and also has strong sea currents. The French authorities say five suspected human traffickers have been arrested on suspicion of being linked to Wednesday’s deadly sinking.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was shocked and appalled by the tragedy while French President Emmanuel Macron said France will not allow the Channel to become a cemetery. The two leaders spoke on the phone after the sinking and agreed on the urgency of stepping up joint efforts to prevent these deadly crossings. They said they needed to work closely with Belgium and the Netherlands as well as others across Europe. Macron and Johnson said the tragic loss of life was a stark reminder that it is vital to break the business model of the criminal gangs behind the crossings.
But the two nations have also traded blame over this tragedy. The British government has once again accused France of not doing enough to stop the migrants from crossing over the Channel in the first place while the French Interior Ministry has criticised Britain’s less stringent immigration system that makes it easier for migrants with no legal papers to find work.
Some observers say this was a tragedy that was all too predictable given the perilous nature of these Channel crossings and the rapid rise in the number of desperate migrants making the journey in flimsy boats. Over 25,000 people have reached the British coast in small boats this year which is more than three times the total for the whole of 2020. And there’s no likelihood of an early stop to this trend. Despite Wednesday’s deadly sinking and the bitterly cold weather, dozens of migrants continued to cross over from France to Britain on Thursday.