According to the mayor of Calais, it was a tragedy “that everyone saw coming”: at least 27 migrants were killed yesterday after their boat capsized on the Channel between France and England. “I had been afraid of this for years,” she told French media.

She is shocked and at the same time exasperated that illegal people smuggling across the Channel is not being effectively combated. On the contrary: the number of illegal crossings has increased sharply in recent months. Yesterday alone, 25 boats with groups of migrants left Calais.

This is quite exceptional: normally the migration by sea decreases in the winter, due to the poorer weather conditions. The water temperature in the Channel will drop below 10 degrees Celsius by the end of the year.

French are angry and moved by the drowning of the 27 migrants near Calais:

Whether this is happening now is a matter of supply and demand, says Jorrit Rijpma, professor of European Law and migration expert at Leiden University. “Migration has largely shifted from hiding in trucks to boats, and the people smuggling industry is facilitating that.”

The crossing by train or car via the Channel Tunnel has been made virtually impossible, says France correspondent Frank Renout. “Nowadays there are high fences everywhere and there is strict control on the trucks. The boat is therefore the only way to cross.”

Brexit also plays an important role, says Rijpma. “Previously, the British were part of the customs union and could invoke the so-called Dublin rules, which stipulated that refugees had to apply for asylum in the country where they entered the EU. This allowed the UK to send asylum seekers back to that country.” That is now much more difficult.

French President Macron says he wants to prevent the Channel from becoming a cemetery in response to the accident. He calls for an urgent meeting of all concerned European ministers and for security at the EU’s external borders to be stepped up.

Debt question

The finger pointing about the question of guilt has already started. According to the mayor of Calais, British Prime Minister Johnson is responsible for the deaths of 27 migrants because “he does not dare to take responsibility” for effective migration policies. British ministers are calling on France to do more against people smuggling.

The influx of migrants has long been a hot topic in British politics, says correspondent Fleur Launspach. “One of the promises of Brexit was to take back control on the border, but that does not seem to work. Many voters also believe that the British government is doing too little to combat migration.”

Many migrants are determined and want to come to the UK anyway. Like these people, who also left the French coast yesterday:

The British coastguard practiced pushing migrant boats back to the French coast last month. If the so-called ‘pushbacks’ become a permanent policy, migrants will simply no longer be able to apply for asylum. There are also plans to reform the asylum system, in the hope of discouraging migration.

On the French side, control of illegal migration through the Channel has been stepped up in recent months, says France correspondent Renout. A detective team has also been set up together with the British to round up smuggling gangs. “Yet there is the idea among the British that the French are doing too little,” said UK correspondent Launspach.

Holy Grail

Professor Rijpma doubts whether all the measures mentioned will allow the boat migration to dry up. “The UK is simply the holy grail for many refugees and migrants, for example because of family and the English language. They will try to get into the country left or right.”

In addition, the UK no longer has a national identity card since 2011, and the flexible British labor market has few restrictive rules for working and there is a labor shortage. This makes it relatively easy for migrants to find work.

There is therefore no simple solution, emphasizes Rijpma. European cooperation is especially important, but this has become less due to Brexit. “France should prevent the boats from leaving, and the British should do something in return. The question is to what extent the EU and France are open to that.”

In word, both Macron and Johnson seem to be committed to that. Both call for more cooperation. “We must work together to prevent gangsters from continuing to get away with murdering migrants,” Johnson said.


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