Yesterday, Britain and France expressed their desire to strengthen joint efforts to dismantle migrant smuggling networks, a day after at least 27 migrants drowned off the northern coast of France while trying to reach England, and France called its European partners to meet on Sunday.
The death toll from this catastrophe is the most severe since the canal became a source of attraction in 2018 for migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia, trying on small, ill-equipped boats to cross the Channel from France to England.
French President Emmanuel Macron vowed that he would not allow the canal to become a “cemetery”, and agreed, during a phone call yesterday evening, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “strengthen efforts” to combat migrant smuggling gangs, a Downing Street spokesman said.
In the wake of this tragedy, France called “the ministers responsible for migration in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, as well as the European Commission, to a meeting” in Calais on Sunday.
“This meeting will allow identifying ways and means of strengthening judicial, humanitarian and police cooperation” in order to “better fight against smugglers’ networks,” the office of French Prime Minister Jean Castix said.
The French president said, earlier, that “France is a transit country, and we are fighting networks of smugglers who take advantage of desperation, but we must improve European cooperation.”
Britain showed the same desire, stressing the need to “respond to the long-term effects and end criminal gangs that treat people as commodities,” Foreign Secretary Priti Patel told British MPs, calling for a “coordinated international effort”.
And 17 men, seven women and three minors died yesterday, after their boat sank off Calais, from where they set off in northern France, while trying to cross towards the British coast, according to the Public Prosecution Office in Lille, France. An investigation has been opened into the incident.
The disaster poses a new challenge to the cooperation between France and Britain in the post-Brexit era.
Each of the two parties initially blamed the incident on the other, which was an indication that the tragedy would not automatically activate cooperation.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced the arrest of five people suspected of smuggling migrants on charges of direct involvement in the disaster, one of whom was suspected of buying inflatable boats for the crossings.
Darmanan explained that only two survivors, an Iraqi and a Somali, were found, who are being treated for severe hypothermia, and will be interrogated later.
The mayor of Calais said one of the victims was a pregnant woman.