Channel deaths fuel tensions between UK and France over migrant boats

LONDON (AP) – The deaths of at least 27 people in the English Channel are fueling tensions between the UK and France over how to prevent migrants from crossing the world’s busiest waterway in small boats.

Despite British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron’s pledges to “do everything possible” to prevent human smugglers from putting lives at risk, politicians on both sides of the Channel are already accusing their counterparts of not having prevented Wednesday’s tragedy.

British officials blame France for rejecting their offer from British police and border officials to conduct joint patrols along the Channel coast with French police. French authorities say Britain is fueling the crisis because it is too easy for migrants to stay in the country and work if they manage to cross the Channel.

Amid the points of the finger, British lawmakers will debate on Thursday the growing number of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats. Macron is expected to discuss the matter with European Union officials.

Meanwhile, migrants continue to brave the freezing weather in small boats and non-navigable dinghies in hopes of making their way to British shores to seek asylum or better opportunities. More than 25,000 people have made the dangerous Channel crossing so far this year, about triple the total for all of 2020.

“This tragedy was quite predictable, indeed it was predicted and it was completely preventable,” Zoe Gardner of the Joint Council of Welfare for Immigrants told the BBC. “This must be the moment for our government to mark a turning point.”

“We need to offer people alternatives to contraband ships. “

Johnson said on Wednesday it was clear that French operations to prevent migrant boats from leaving French shores “had not been enough”, despite millions of pounds in support pledged by the British government this summer to fund more police patrols on French beaches.

But Calais lawmaker Pierre-Henri Dumont told the BBC that more patrols “won’t change anything because we have 200 to 300 kilometers (125 to 185 miles) of coastline to watch 24/7”.

“I think it’s time for our two governments to stop blaming each other and try to talk to each other and come up with real solutions, not some crazy solution like having more and more people patrolling, sending the British army on the French coast, “says Dumont. “This is not acceptable and will not change anything.”

On Thursday Natalie Elphicke, Conservative Member of the UK Parliament for Dover and Deal on England’s south coast, said it was “absolutely vital that French police stop the boats leaving in the first place”.

“Quite disappointing, yesterday we saw French police in footage standing as the boats gathered and migrants grabbed them and set off from shore in France,” she told the Associated Press. “Britain has offered to help with people and resources, and I hope the French will now accept this offer and other European countries will come to the aid of France.”


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