Britain and France were on Thursday looking at new measures to limit migration across the Channel and break people-smuggling networks after at least 27 migrants trying to reach England drowned off the northern French coast.
The disaster is the deadliest accident since the Channel in 2018 became a hub for migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia who have been increasingly using small boats to reach England from France.
President Emmanuel Macron, after vowing France would not allow the Channel to become a “cemetery,” spoke to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to agree on stepping up efforts to thwart the traffickers blamed for the surge in crossings.
Prime Minister Jean Castex also held a crisis meeting on Thursday with ministers to discuss new measures, his office said.
Seventeen men, seven women and three minors died when the inflatable boat lost air and took on water off the northern port of Calais on Wednesday, according to public prosecutors in Lille. A manslaughter probe has been opened.
The disaster poses a new challenge to cooperation between France and Britain after Brexit. Initial statements from both sides pinning responsibility on the other party to act indicated the tragedy will not be an automatic catalyst for cooperation.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said a total of five suspected traffickers accused of being directly linked to the doomed crossing had been arrested, the fifth man suspected of buying inflatable boats for the crossing.
Darmanin said only two survivors, an Iraqi and Somali, had been found and they were recovering from extreme hypothermia and would eventually be questioned.
Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart said a pregnant woman was also one of the victims.
In telephone talks, Johnson and Macron agreed on the “urgency of stepping up joint efforts to prevent these deadly crossings” and that
“it is vital to keep all options on the table” to break the business model of the smuggling gangs, according to Downing Street.
But Johnson told British media London had faced “difficulties persuading some of our partners, particularly the French, to do things in a way that the situation deserves.”
And in a terse readout of the talks, the Elysee Palace said Macron told Johnson that France and the UK have a “shared responsibility” and added he “expected the British to cooperate fully and refrain from exploiting a dramatic situation for political ends.”