| 17 April 2024, Wednesday |

France beefs up sea rescue work, spars with UK over migrant deaths

France said on Thursday that it was mobilizing reservists and beefing up marine rescue operations, as London and Paris swapped blame for the deaths of 27 migrants in an inflatable dinghy attempting to reach Britain.

The migrants drowned after their dinghy collapsed in the English Channel on Wednesday, one of many perilous crossings undertaken each year in flimsy, overcrowded vessels as people fled poverty in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.

The fatalities have heightened tensions between countries already at war over Brexit, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson accusing France of being to blame and French Interior Minister Gerald slamming Britain of “poor immigration management.”

President Emmanuel Macron backed Paris’ efforts, but stated that France was just a transit nation for the majority of migrants passing through its territory and that stronger European collaboration was required to combat illegal immigration.

“I will… state unequivocally that our security forces are mobilized 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Macron said during a visit to Croatia’s capital Zagreb, guaranteeing “maximum mobilization” of French forces, including reservists and drones monitoring the coast.

“But, above all, we must significantly improve collaboration… with Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the European Commission.”

According to French police, one smuggler captured overnight purchased dinghies in Germany, and many regularly travel via Belgium before reaching France’s northern coasts on their route to Britain.

According to the prime minister’s office, France will invite interior ministers from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Commission, to a combined meeting in Calais on Sunday.


The event on Wednesday was the deadliest of its sort in the river that connects Britain and France, one of the world’s busiest maritime channels with strong currents and frigid water.

With ties strained by years of conflict over Brexit and immigration, much of the attention on Thursday was on who should take blame, even as both sides pledged to collaborate to find common solutions.

“We have had trouble persuading some of our partners, notably the French, to act in the manner that we believe the situation requires,” Johnson said.

Britain reiterated its offer to establish combined British-French patrols off the coast of France near Calais, where many migrants board boats.

Paris has consistently resisted similar appeals, and it is uncertain whether it would alter its stance now, five months before a presidential election in which migration and security will be major issues.

They are also contentious concerns in the United Kingdom, where Brexit campaigners promised voters that leaving the European Union would mean restoring control of the country’s borders.

London has already threatened to withdraw financial assistance to France’s border police if Paris fails to curb the influx of migrants.

“We’re willing to give on-the-ground help and resources,” Immigration Minister Kevin Foster told BBC TV. “We’re clear: we don’t only regard this as an issue that France must address; we want to collaborate with France and our wider European allies…”

  • Reuters