At least 20 migrants who were trying to reach the British coast from the French through the English Channel have died this Wednesday, as announced by French authorities. It is feared that the number could rise, as the rescue operation continues. The tragedy, the worst of its kind in recent years in this area, is one more example of the strong rise in this type of irregular migration in a year in which all the maximums in terms of sea crossings in precarious vessels are being exceeded. This has caused strong tensions between Paris and London, which are mutually responsible for the situation.
“Strong emotion at the drama of many deaths after capsizing a boat of migrants in [el canal de] La Mancha ”, tweeted French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who announced that he was traveling to Calais to find out about the situation in person. “The criminal nature of the traffickers who organize these journeys will never be said enough,” he added. Prime Minister Jean Castex lamented the “many missing and wounded” in the maritime “tragedy”. They are “victims of criminal traffickers who exploit their despair and misery,” he stressed and assured that he follows the situation “in real time” from Paris, where he remains isolated after having tested positive for covid-19 this week.
Three boats and two helicopters were working on the rescue operation, after a fishing boat notified the authorities that “numerous castaways” had been seen floating in the waters of the Pas-de-Calais Strait, explained the Maritime Prefecture of La Manche and the North Sea in a statement. Several people have been rescued, although the vital prognosis of several of them was reserved, he added.
Despite the fact that according to Interior sources this year there have been more than 40,000 attempts at sea crossings, compared to 12,000 in 2020, deaths from shipwrecks in the English Channel are very rare – unlike in the Mediterranean – due to the close surveillance of both French and British patrols, both the authorities and the NGOs working on the ground agree. The French forces of order have succeeded so far this year from the departure of 57% of the small boats, the precarious boats that migrants use to try to reach the British coast, always according to Interior.
Between 2018 and 2020, only 11 deaths were recorded in this area, the closest point between the European and British coasts, which is why attempts to reach the United Kingdom by sea have multiplied, especially since the strong security it has made irregular transit through the Eurotunnel and on the ferries more difficult. The fact that more and more precarious boats are being used – recently the chain of sports stores Decathlon banned the sale of kayaks in this region to prevent these canoes from being used to reach the United Kingdom – has set off the alarms of all those responsible in the last few months, they feared a similar tragedy at any moment. On the night of last Friday to Saturday, 243 migrants were rescued by French patrols.
At the beginning of November, almost 1,200 people managed to cross the channel, according to the British authorities. The record for irregular crossings has not stopped growing, especially since the summer.
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Following a harsh new exchange of accusations between Paris and London, accusing France of not doing enough to prevent migrants from leaving its shores, the French government last week ordered the dismantling at Grande-Synthe, between Calais and Dunkirk, of the largest irregular migrant camp in recent years, which meant the displacement of more than a thousand people. In addition, the authorities announced the arrest of 35 suspected of trafficking in persons or involved in criminal acts. In total, so far in 2021, France says it has dismantled 30 trafficking networks, up from 23 in 2020.
Johnson demands more effort from France
The numbers of immigrants who have made the crossing of the canal so far this year have increased the tension within the British Government between the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and his Minister of the Interior, Priti Patel. Recent polls show that this issue is drawing more and more support from the Conservative Party among its voters. Johnson has convened this Wednesday the different departments of his Executive that make up the COBRA crisis cabinet to analyze what happened off the coast of Calais. Shortly after, the British Prime Minister appeared before the cameras in Downing Street. “I am shocked, horrified and deeply saddened by what has happened,” he said. “[Esta tragedia] It shows that the gangs that are transporting all these people in these dangerous boats are not going to stop at nothing ”, assured Johnson, who has once again suggested to the French Government that it redouble its efforts to prevent irregular immigration. “I’m afraid it also shows that the operation carried out by our friends on the coast, to which the UK has contributed more than € 64 million and with technical assistance, has not been enough. That is why we offer increased aid, but also that we work together on the very ground from which these vessels set sail, ”said Johnson.
When asked if he maintained his confidence in Minister Patel, Johnson has answered with a terse “yes.” Shortly after, it was Patel herself who expressed in a statement her condolences to the victims’ families and condemned “the criminal gangs” responsible for the trafficking of immigrants. But he also used the occasion to defend his New Immigration Plan, which toughens the conditions for entry into the United Kingdom, with its “revision of a broken system for granting asylum, and of many of the factors that encourage immigrants to do the same. dangerous trip from France ”, has affirmed Patel.
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