France rejects British minister, in new crisis after shipwreck

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France rejects British minister, in new crisis after shipwreck

The French government has uninvited the UK to a meeting of ministers on the crossing of migrants across the English Channel after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson published a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron suggesting that the country receive returns foreigners who land in England.

The ministerial meeting had been scheduled after the death of at least 27 people trying to reach the UK in an inflatable boat last Wednesday (24). Among the dead are 17 men, 7 women —one of them pregnant— and 3 children.

Despite the disaster, the most serious in the region since the IOM (International Organization for Migration) began monitoring the cases, in 2014, immigrants continued to take risks on the trip in the past two days.

The UK pledged in July to pay nearly 63 million euros (almost R$400 million) to patrol the borders, and the French government says it offers the possibility for them to stay in France, but foreigners say they want to get to England.

“If those arriving in this country were returned quickly, the incentive for people to put their lives in the hands of traffickers would be significantly reduced,” said Boris, who made the letter public on his social media account as well.

Macron said this attitude shows the Briton “is not serious” in his proposals. “You don’t communicate from one leader to another about issues like these through tweets and letters that you make public,” said Macron, in Rome, where he is on an official visit.

Boris had already irritated Macron by insinuating in an interview shortly after the shipwreck that it was the fault of the French, who are not making “enough efforts”. “Unfortunately, I have difficulty persuading some of the partners, especially the French, to react to the situation,” he said.

Upon arriving from a trip to Croatia, the French president telephoned the Briton and, according to his country’s media, asked him to act “with dignity, respect and a spirit of effective cooperation with regard to human life”.

The new episode aggravates an already tense relationship, in which both sides accuse themselves of not doing enough to prevent foreigners from risking their lives crossing the nearly 50 km of rough sea that separates the two countries.

It also adds another point of conflict in diplomacy between neighbors, who are discussing fishing permits in nearby waters and were shaken after Australia broke a contract for the purchase of French submarines, after forming an alliance with the United Kingdom and the States United.

This Friday morning, Gérald Darmanin, French Interior Minister, announced the withdrawal of the invitation to his counterpart Priti Patel, from the United Kingdom, for the meeting on Sunday in Calais (on the French coast) in which the ministers in charge of immigration will also participate. Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, in addition to the European Commission.

The number of foreigners entering the English Channel in precarious boats has grown exponentially in the last three years, after inspections have increased on other routes, such as the road, inside trucks, or the railway, through the tunnel that joins the two countries.

According to the French government, this year alone, 47 thousand immigrants tried the crossing, of which 7,800 were rescued by maritime guards. According to British authorities, 26,000 arrived on its coast in small boats.

In addition to returning the foreigners, Boris proposed in his letter a joint land patrol on French beaches —already discarded by Macron— and reciprocal access to maritime guards in the waters of each country.

After the wreck on Wednesday, both leaders pledged to act harshly against immigrant smuggling gangs, blamed as the main culprits in the problem. Since the beginning of the year, 1,552 smugglers have been arrested and 44 gangs disbanded, according to France.

Two survivors of the shipwreck, one from Somalia and the other from Iraq, were released from the hospital where they were in Calais and must be questioned about the crossing, to fill in information gaps — such as, for example, how many people were on the boat and the that caused the accident.

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