The day after at least 27 people died trying to cross the English Channel when their fragile rubber boat capsized during the perilous voyage, the leaders of France and England vowed to crack down on migrant crossings even as they gave a divided response to one of their bloodiest. Disasters in recent years involving migrants trying to cross the narrow waterway separating the two countries.
French officials confirmed that among those killed were children and a pregnant woman, as crews worked in the cold and wind to retrieve the bodies and try to identify those who died. Two people, one from Iraq and the other from Somalia, were found and taken to a French hospital, where they were being treated for a severe hypothermia.
The tragedy was a stark reminder that five years after authorities dismantled a sprawling migrant camp in Calais, the two countries still struggle to deal with the influx of migrants in the region.
France and Britain have long accused each other of not doing enough to curb attempts to cross the Canal. After Wednesday’s tragedy, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said greater efforts should be made to allow joint patrols along the French coast.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he expected the British “to fully cooperate and refrain from using this tragic situation for political ends”.
The two leaders spoke by phone late on Wednesday and said in comments afterward that they agreed to step up efforts to prevent migrants from making the journey through one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
Under an agreement between the two countries, Britain is paying France to clamp down on the crossings through surveillance and patrols.
Mr Johnson said he was “shocked, stunned and deeply saddened by the loss of life at sea in the canal.” But he added, “I also want to say that this disaster underscores how dangerous it is to cross the canal in this way.”
Mr Macron called for an immediate tightening of border controls and an increase in the crackdown with other European countries against people smugglers.
“France will not let the canal become a cemetery,” he said in a statement.
The drownings came just days after French and British authorities reached an agreement to do more to stop the number of people taking to the sea.
Attempts to reach Britain in small boats have increased in recent years, as the authorities launched a crackdown on the smuggling of asylum seekers in trucks that cross by ferry or through the Channel Tunnel.
Since the beginning of the year, there have been 47,000 attempts to cross the canal in small boats and 7,800 migrants have been rescued from shipwrecks, according to French officials. Before Wednesday, seven people had either been killed or had disappeared so far this year.
Many immigrants – who are often from countries in Africa or the Middle East such as Iraq and Eritrea – consider Britain an ideal destination because English is spoken, because they already have family or citizens there, and because it is relatively easy to find outside the country. Work books.
But the recent increase in attempts to cross the English Channel by boat reflects a shift in how migrants travel, rather than in their number, according to immigration experts and human rights groups, who say asylum claims in Britain overall have fallen this year.
The crossings became another element in deteriorating relations between France and Britain, which have also clashed over fishing rights and trade checks after Brexit, as well as over the submarine alliance between Australia, Britain and the United States that has been undermined. An earlier French deal.
On a clear day, it is possible to see the white cliffs of Dover from France. The English coast can look amazingly close, and for years has attracted immigrants who have already traversed Europe and hope to reach Britain where they believe better opportunities lie ahead.
In the darkness of Tuesday night, nearly 36 people, including men, women and children, set out on what French officials described as a “very fragile” inflatable boat amid the strong currents and choppy frozen water separating the two countries. .
It is one of the world’s busiest shipping methods and the short distance refutes the dangers inherent in transit. Adding to the risks is the fact that many of those attempting the journey are aided by smugglers who put them in small, overcrowded and unbalanced boats.
Gerald Darmanin, France’s interior minister, said authorities believed about 30 people were crammed onto a flimsy ship, likening it to “a puddle you’re exploding in your garden.”
A French media report said a container ship rammed the migrants’ boat, although French authorities said the circumstances of the disaster were still under investigation.
On Thursday, Darmanin told RTL radio that many of the crossings started in the same way.
“Dozens, sometimes hundreds of immigrants,” he said, “taken shore before the storm to leave very quickly, often at high tide, to reach England in makeshift ships.”
On Wednesday afternoon, a fishing vessel alerted the maritime authorities that several people had been spotted in the waters off the coast of Calais. Soon, ships and helicopters began a search and rescue operation.
Two people, one from Iraq and the other from Somalia, were found and taken to a French hospital, where they were being treated for a severe hypothermia. Officials said the boat itself was discovered completely empty. It was not clear as of Thursday morning how many people might be missing.
The process of identifying those who died is likely to be complicated by the fact that many migrants dispose of any identification papers before crossing. Darmanin said the dead included women and children. It was not clear yet on Thursday where all the migrants in the group came from.
Mr. Darmanen said authorities suspect the ship was bought by a smuggler in Germany whose car had German license plates. Darmanin said this smuggler and four others were arrested in connection with the shipwreck.
Darmanin added that 60 to 70 percent of migrants trying to reach Britain come from Germany or the Netherlands and head through Belgium to France to try to cross.
“The smugglers take them, and for two days, they try to bring them to shore,” he said. “It’s an international problem.”