| 22 April 2024, Monday |

France and UK engage in blame game over English Channel tragedy

After their boat capsized in the English Channel, just off the northern port of Calais, at least 27 people attempting to seek refuge in the United Kingdom have died
According to French authorities, three young children were among those who lost their lives at sea.
The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the tragedy was the “largest loss of life” since 2014, when the group began collecting data about missing migrants in the channel.
But this disaster instantly escalated into a political spat between France and the UK with both nations squabbling over who should bear responsibility.
Speaking to journalists at Downing Street, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “We’ve had difficulties persuading some of our partners, particularly the French, to do things in a way that we think the situation deserves.”
But French President Emmanuel Macron urged British authorities to share responsibility. According to the Elysee, in a phone call with the British Prime Minister, President Macron said he expected full cooperation and that the situation should not be used “for political purposes.”
British Labour politician Alfred Dubs, who sits with the opposition, said the French have a right to be fed up.
“You can’t shout at them, then expect them to cooperate, like the British government do — that’s disastrous. By the noise that politicians are making here, it looks like we are taking them [the refugees] all, but in reality, the French are taking many more,” he told DW.
Mathilda della Torre, founder of Conversations from Calais, a project documenting conversations between volunteers and refugees in the camps in Calais, said this diplomatic battle has dehumanized the situation.
“People continue to undertake this dangerous journey to seek asylum because they do not have safer options of doing so. Both the UK and France have created this tragedy. Blood is in their hands. This blame game won’t solve the crisis,” she told DW.
“The people who died have also been dehumanized with mainstream media and politicians referring to them in terms of numbers crossing the Channel. We have to put a face to the people and focus on their stories and lives instead of referring to them as threats arriving at borders,” she added.
Speaking to MPs in the British Parliament, Home Secretary of the United Kingdom Priti Patel acknowledged this and said she would also ask media outlets to reflect on their use of dehumanizing language to describe the people who drowned in the channel.
At 2 p.m. on Wednesday evening, a French fisherman raised the alarm when he spotted motionless bodies floating in the water just off the coast of northern France.
While search and rescue missions immediately arrived at the scene, the public prosecutor’s office in Lille said two men survived the disaster and were being treated at a hospital in Calais. They added that a criminal investigation had also been launched to find the smugglers involved.
Speaking to French media RTL, France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said: “Those responsible for the drama which took place yesterday in the Channel are the smugglers, who for a few thousand euros promise El Dorado in England. The smugglers are criminals, this tragedy reminds us, painfully.”
The UK’s Priti Patel shared a similar view. “It serves as the starkest possible reminder of the dangers of these Channel crossings organized by ruthless criminal gangs,” she wrote on Twitter.
Bram Frouws, head of the Mixed Migration Centre (MMC) monitoring group, explained that such a response feeds into a militarized narrative.
“I think if you if you listen to the statements we’re hearing from Boris Johnson, for example, or from Priti Patel, they call it human trafficking. They’re talking about ruthless criminal gangs. But they’re conflating migrant smuggling and human trafficking when the two concepts are very different; this is often done deliberately to justify a highly securitized response,” he told DW.
“If smugglers were involved in yesterday’s boat tragedy, we have to arrest them but that is only part of the response. It seems it’s the main focus in the current response, but the solution is bigger than just trying to address how people got to the UK from France,” he added.
Catherine Woollard, the director of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) shared a similar view. “Smugglers are a symptom not a cause in this migration crisis,” she told DW.
“Many refugees, unfortunately, rely on smugglers because they’re not given the option of safe pathways to seek refuge. Both the UK and the EU have to prioritize facilitating safe and legal pathways for people to claim asylum,” she said.