Tue. Dec 7th, 2021

British and French leaders have ramped up a war of words over dangerous crossings of the English Channel after at least 27 people died making the sea journey Wednesday, bringing to a head simmering tensions in the migration crisis.

Ministers from both sides of the Channel on Thursday laid blame with their counterparts after dozens of people — including a young girl — drowned in bitterly cold waters off the French coast when their inflatable vessel bound for Britain sank. It is one of the largest losses of life in the English Channel in recent years.

French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson both expressed horror at the tragedy, with Macron saying his country would not let the Channel become a graveyard. The leaders agreed to step up joint efforts to prevent the migrant crossings — which have increased dramatically this year — but also accused each other of not doing enough.

In a phone call on Wednesday night, Macron went further and urged Johnson to stop politicizing the migrant crisis for domestic political gain, according to a French readout of their conversation.
On Thursday morning, the finger-pointing continued among junior politicians.

The Member of Parliament for Dover, England, where many migrants arrive from France, told CNN that the deaths in the Channel were “entirely foreseeable,” and cast the problem as a border policing issue whose solution lay in France.

“This was an entirely foreseeable tragedy that sooner or later one of these boats would capsize and people would die,” Natalie Elphike told CNN near Dover’s harbor Thursday.

“People are safe in France, and the best way to keep people safe is to keep them on shore, not in the hands of people smugglers in the middle of the Channel,” she added.
The British politician added that the French “are standing by where people are getting into boats and they’re not stopping them. That’s where the policy needs to change, on the French side.”

Meanwhile French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin urged more support from European neighbors, telling radio station RTL on Thursday that France cannot be the “only ones who can fight against smugglers.”

“We are saying this to our Belgian friends … We are saying this to our German friends… And we are saying this to our English friends, that they must help us to fight against the smugglers who are international, who play with the borders,” Darmanin said.

Asked why the UK attracts so many illegal migrants, Darmanin pointed to Britain’s methods of managing migration and its thriving labor market. “There’s obviously mismanagement of immigration in Britain,” he said.
The UK’s Immigration Minister Kevin Foster meanwhile, told the BBC Thursday that the government is determined to “smash” the “really evil business model” of people-smuggling.

That included looking to increase penalties for smuggling to life in prison, and improve “safe” immigration routes directly from zones of conflict or refugee camps, he said. Foster added that the UK has started paying France $72 million in installments to tackle the crisis.