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Macron and Johnson pledge action against 'lethal' sea crossings after Channel tragedy

The death toll from the Channel crossing tragedy has been revised downward to 27 this evening, a French minister said.

File photo.
File photo.
Image: PA Images

Updated Nov 24th 2021, 11:00 PM

FRENCH PRESIDENT EMMANUEL Macron and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed during a phone call this evening to step up action against “lethal” sea crossings by migrants in a phone call this evening.

“Both leaders were clear that today’s tragic loss of life was a stark reminder that it is vital to keep all options on the table to stop these lethal crossings and break the business model of the criminal gangs behind them,” said a UK government spokesman.

At least 27 people had died while crossing from France to England when their boat sank off the port of Calais – making it the deadliest disaster since the English Channel became a major part of the migrant route.

The death toll from the Channel crossing tragedy has been revised downward to 27 this evening, a French minister said.

 Macron had said earlier that France would not allow the Channel to become a “cemetery”, and vowed to find out who was responsible for the tragedy as prosecutors opened a manslaughter probe.

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

The French leader also called for an  emergency meeting of “European ministers faced with the migration challenge”, with his Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin urging a “tough international response”.

Darmanin announced that four people suspected of being “directly linked” to the accident have been arrested.

Prime Minister Jean Castex is to convene several of his ministers for a crisis meeting early on Thursday, his  office said.

French officials said earlier three helicopters and three boats had searched the area, uncovering corpses and people unconscious in the water, after a fisherman sounded the alarm.

The victims were among around 50 people aboard a vessel that had set out from Dunkirk east of Calais, according to the police.

On the other side of the Channel, Johnson said he was “shocked, appalled and deeply saddened by the loss of life at sea”, following a crisis meeting with senior officials.

The disaster, the worst single loss of life since at least 2018 when migrants began using boats en masse to cross the English Channel, comes as tensions grow between London and Paris over the record numbers of people crossing.

Britain has urged tougher action from France to stop migrants from making the voyage.

Growing post-Brexit tensions

According to the French authorities, 31,500 people attempted to leave for Britain since the start of the year and 7,800 people have been rescued at sea, figures which doubled since August.

Seven people have been confirmed dead or are still missing feared drowned after various incidents this year.

In Britain, the ruling right-wing Conservative party of Prime Minister Boris Johnson is coming under intense pressure, including from its own supporters, to reduce the numbers crossing.

French police said this week they detained 15 suspected members of an international migrant smuggling syndicate that helped people illegally cross the Channel to Britain.

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The network of Iraqi Kurds, Romanians, Pakistanis and Vietnamese helped a minimum of 250 people per month cross to England, using small boats that transport up to 60 migrants at a time.

Passage to England would cost a migrant €6,000 and the smugglers racked up some €3 million in total profits.

According to British authorities, more than 25,000 people have now arrived illegally so far this year, already triple the figure recorded in 2020.

The issue has added to growing post-Brexit tensions between Britain and France, with a row on fishing rights also still unresolved.

© – AFP, 2021.

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