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France, UK in war of words after 27 migrants drown in Channel

A damaged inflatable dinghy and a sleeping bag abandoned by migrants are seen on the beach near Wimereux, France, on November 24, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

The UK and France blame each other for the deaths of 27 migrants who drowned while trying to cross the Channel in an inflatable dinghy to reach Britain.

Speaking to The Telegraph newspaper on Thursday, Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart explicitly blamed the UK for the failure, saying it should change its immigration policies.

“The British government is to blame. I believe that Boris Johnson has, for the past year and a half, cynically chosen to blame France,” she said, accusing the British prime minister of “forcing our country to endure this set-up because he doesn’t have the courage himself to assume responsibilities in his country.”

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin also blamed the UK government for the incident, saying that Britain's “bad immigration management” encourages  refugees to attempt the perilous crossing.

He said the migrants were “often attracted” by Britain’s labor market and the rules for this market must be changed.

Franck Dhersin, the vice president of transport for the northern Hauts-de-France region, said the mafia chiefs of human trafficking “live in London peacefully, in beautiful villas, they earn hundreds of millions of euros every year, and they reinvest that money in the City.”

UK authorities hit back at the allegations, with one lawmaker condemning France for turning the tragedy into “another blame game.”

“It’s rather regrettable that the first thing we wake up to is another blame game. I’m very disappointed that the French interior minister has said that in the way he has,” Kate Hoey, an MP in the House of Lords, told Sky News.

She laid the responsibility on the French door, emphasizing that the French government must prevent migrants from accessing boats in the first place.

Bringing the tensions to the leaders’ level, Johnson was quoted by The Guardian as saying that Wednesday’s incident once again highlighted the lack of French effort to patrol its beaches.

French President Emmanuel Macron warned his British counterpart against politicizing the influx of migrants, in a phone call after the incident.

“We’ve had difficulties persuading some of our partners, particularly the French, to do things in a way that we think the situation deserves,” Johnson said.

The war of accusations comes in the wake of the deaths of 17 men, seven women –including a pregnant woman- and three children, after their inflatable boat lost air and sank off the northern port of Calais on Wednesday. Five alleged traffickers linked to the incident have been arrested in France.

The English Channel is one of the busiest routes in the world and has strong currents. Traffickers usually overload dinghies so that they are barely exposed to water or waves as they try to reach the British shores.

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