French President Emmanuel Macron appealed for more European cooperation to prevent illegal immigration after 27 migrants died off the coast of Calais in the largest tragedy of its kind in the English Channel.
“When these women and men arrive on the shores of the Channel, it is already too late,” Macron said.
He added that “we need to empower our partners and we need to strengthen cooperation with Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, but also the British and the Commission”.
In a phone conversation, Macron and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to step up cooperation to stop smugglers from organising the illegal Channel crossings.
France has invited Belgian, German, Dutch and British ministers as well as the European Commission to a meeting in Calais on Sunday.
The accident marks the biggest loss of life during attempted illegal crossings of the Channel, according to International Organisation for Migration. It comes as record numbers of migrants have attempted to cross from France to the United Kingdom this year.
Johnson was holding a meeting of the government’s crisis committee, COBRA, in response to the channel tragedy, his office said.
Speaking to reporters gathered in front of 10 Downing Street, Johnson said he was “shocked and appalled and deeply saddened” by the tragedy.
“My thoughts and sympathies are first of all with the victims and their families,” he said. “It’s an appalling thing that they have suffered.”
He also stated that he wanted to “do more” with France to discourage illegal crossings.
Macron said on Wednesday evening that “France will not allow [the Channel] to become a cemetery,” calling for “immediate reinforcements” to Frontex and an emergency European meeting.
London ‘renews offer’ for joint patrols in France
UK interior minister Priti Patel said she had renewed an offer to host joint patrols with France with “more officers on the ground”.
Calais lawmaker Pierre-Henri Dumont told the BBC that more patrols “will not change anything because we have 200 to 300 kilometres of shore to monitor 24/7.”
French interior minister Gerald Darmanin, meanwhile, reiterated France’s call for the UK to reform their labour market.
“It is also the attractiveness of Great Britain which is in question, in particular its labour market, since everyone knows that there are a million, more than a million, 1,200,000 illegal immigrants in Great Britain and that English employers use this labour to manufacture the things that the English consume,” he told RTL.
Macron told Johnson he expects full cooperation from the British and that they do not use the tragic situation “for political purposes,” the Elysée said.
What happened off the coast of Calais?
Fishermen initially reported discovering bodies floating in the water at around 14h CET on Wednesday.
The regional maritime authority, which oversees rescue operations, said 27 bodies were found, two people survived and four others were missing and presumed drowned.
“Strong emotion in front of the tragedy of the numerous deaths due to the capsizing of a boat of migrants in the English Channel,” Darmanin wrote.
“The criminal nature of the smugglers who organise these crossings cannot be overstated,” he added.
Five suspected traffickers have been arrested on suspicion of being linked to the deadly sinking of the dinghy, Darmanin said.
Two have already appeared in court by the end of the day on Wednesday, he stated.
The Dunkirk public prosecutor’s office told AFP that an investigation had been opened for “aiding illegal entry and residence in an organised gang” and “aggravated manslaughter”.
What’s the background to this story?
So far this year, at least three migrants have drowned off the coast of Calais, while four people remain missing.
The narrow strait of water can be dangerous for attempted migrant crossings, due to strong sea currents.
An estimated 22,000 people have reached the UK in small boats this year, more than double the number in 2020.
The British government has agreed to pay France €62.7 million to increase security on its northern coast, but says the situation remains “unacceptable”.
Earlier this month, a record of 1,185 people reached the UK in a single day.