Channel deaths: French minister says migrants 'attracted' to UK job market as 27 people die in crossing attempt

November 25, 2021

A picture of the flimsy boat involved in the death of 27 people in the Channel has emerged as the French interior minister attacked the UK's migration approach.

Gerard Darmanin said that Britain had handled the crisis badly, and that other countries such as Belgium and Germany could do more to help France tackle illegal migrants and human trafficking issues.

In an interview with French radio station RTL he said migrants are "often attracted" to the UK's job market and described the sinking of a migrant boat as an "absolute tragedy" - blaming human trafficking gangs who promise people the "El Dorado of England" for large sums of money.

Pregnant woman among the dead amid fears smugglers will continue trafficking in the coming weeks - live updates

Mr Darmanin did not have further information about the circumstances of the boat's capsizing, or the victims' nationalities, but said the two survivors were Somali and Iraqi and had been treated for severe hypothermia.

He also said a fifth suspected people trafficker was arrested overnight and the boat used to cross the Channel was purchased in Germany and had a German vehicle registration.

"Those responsible for the tragedy which took place yesterday in the Channel are the smugglers, who for a few thousand euros promise Eldorado in England. The smugglers are criminals, this tragedy reminds us, painfully," he said.

"It's an international problem... We tell our Belgian, German and British friends they should help us fight traffickers that work at an international level," Mr Darmanin added.

Five women, including one who was pregnant, and a girl were among the victims after their boat capsized in the water on Wednesday, with fishermen reporting more than a dozen bodies motionless in the sea.

Two people were rescued and four suspected people-smugglers arrested shortly afterwards.

The boat which sank was very flimsy, with Mr Darmanin likening it to "a pool you blow up in your garden".

Around 60 migrants - some of them in life jackets - were transferred on to buses at Calais's main train station on Thursday morning.

"Have these deaths changed your mind about getting to Britain?" Sky's Europe correspondent Adam Parsons asked one man as he passed. "No, no," he replied.

Parsons said: "The political debate may have intensified but the familiar sense of purpose and determination, which I've heard many times before among those trying to get across the Channel, seems unabated."

Franck Dhersin, the vice president of transport for the northern Hauts-de-France region, told French TV station BFMTV that heads of human trafficking networks who live comfortable lives in the UK must be arrested.

"In France what do we do? We arrest the smugglers...To fight them, there's only one way - we need to stop the organisations, you need to arrest the mafia chiefs," he said.

"And the mafia chiefs live in London... They live in London peacefully, in beautiful villas, they earn hundreds of millions of euros every year, and they reinvest that money in the City. And so it's very easy for the tax authorities to find them".

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French politician Bruno Bonnell said there are many reasons people are attracted to the UK.

"First the language, a lot of people have a basic understanding of English and they find it more comfortable finding a job there," he told Sky News.

"Plus they have heard from sources that the conditions are better," added the La Republique En Marche MP for Rhone.

Those who claim asylum in the UK are not normally allowed to work whilst their claim is being considered. They are instead provided with accommodation and support to meet their essential living needs.

The Home Office may grant permission to work to asylum seekers whose claim has been outstanding for more than 12 months through no fault of their own. Under this policy, those who are allowed to work are restricted to jobs on the shortage occupation list published by the department - which includes health services and the fields of science and engineering.

The Dover Strait is the world's busiest shipping lane and more than 25,700 people have completed the dangerous journey to the UK this year.

That's three times the total for 2020, according to data compiled by PA news agency.

The numbers have prompted some critics to blame Brexit while those in support of leaving the EU have questioned whether the UK has taken back its borders.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has previously said there is no "silver bullet" to solving the issue and the "only solution is wholescale reform of our asylum system".

In August, she promised to make the route across the Channel "unviable", but the number of people crossing in small boats has reached record highs.

The issue has become an increasingly tense subject for the UK and France, and each side has been blaming the other.

The government has accused the French of not stepping up patrols enough, despite giving them millions in extra funding to deal with the problem.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron last night and Downing Street said they had agreed to "keep all options on the table".

Mr Johnson offered to host and to help with joint patrols, while Mr Macron has called for an emergency meeting of European ministers and an "immediate strengthening" of Frontex, the EU's border agency.

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