French pilots spend life savings on buying plane to save Med migrants

There's giving a few euros to charity. And then there's investing your life savings in a plane to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean.

French pilots spend life savings on buying plane to save Med migrants
Photo; AFP
Commercial pilots Benoît Micolon and José Benavente spent €130,000 on a MCR-4S light airplane which they will fly over the Mediterranean sea off the Libyan coast to look for stricken migrant boats.

Around 500 have people died off the Libyan coast in the first quarter of 2018, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The pair aim to “cover a rectangle stretching 150 kilometres from East to West, 50 kilometres north of Tripoli, the area with the highest concentration of rescues and boat sinkings” José Benavente told Le Monde.
“The NGO boats urgently need assistance locating dinghys and signalling them to the MRCC (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre), the official Italian organisation which coordinates rescues,” he said.
Micolon, a former Boeing 747 pilot, and Benavente met in flying school in 2006. They founded a charity Pilotes Volontaires (Voluntary Pilotes) in January to help people in trouble at sea.

The pair had originally hoped to crowdfund the money for their plane, but realised it would take too long.

Fuentes said: “It would have taken too much time. Spring is here, boats are starting to leave Tripoli again. When the humanitarian agency SOS-Mediterranée explained that they were having to rescue canoes from the waves already, we realised that we could be useful immediately.”

The duo’s plane is equipped with an automatic pilot so the pair can keep their eyes on the sea to search for stricken boats.

It can fly for 10 hours before needing to refuel.

The plane also has a satellite communication system to allow it to speak to humanitarian agencies.

By Charlotte Mason

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France seeks EU deal with Britain on illegal immigration

France wants a new post-Brexit accord between Britain and the European Union on handling illegal immigration, in the wake of the disaster in the Channel last week that left 27 migrants dead, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Monday.

A member of the UK Border Force (R) helps people on a beach in Dungeness
A member of the UK Border Force (R) helps people on a beach in Dungeness on the south-east coast of England, on November 24, 2021, after they were rescued while crossing the English Channel. The past three years have seen a significant rise in attempted Channel crossings by migrants, despite warnings of the dangers in the busy shipping lane between northern France and southern England. Ben STANSALL / AFP

He called for a “balanced” accord that would offer “a real solution” for dealing with highly organised trafficking networks often spread across France, Belgium, Germany and other countries.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex will write to his British counterpart Boris Johnson on Tuesday to outline the agreement, Darmanin added.

The deal could include ways to ensure unaccompanied minors can safely reach Britain to rejoin family, instead of putting themselves at the mercy of traffickers.

But he rejected proposals that would see Britain unilaterally force migrant boats back to France, saying it was against international maritime law and would put people’s lives in danger.

“We cannot accept this practice,” he said.

Earlier on Monday Darmanin urged Britain on Monday to open a legal route for asylum seekers in order to prevent
people risking their lives by taking small boats across the Channel to England.

“Great Britain needs to open up a legal immigration route” because “at the moment anyone who wants to ask for asylum has no other choice but to cross the Channel,” Darmanin said in an interview with the RMC/BFM media group.

French officials have already suggested that British immigration officials process asylum requests in northern France from migrants camped out around the major ports on France’s coast.

Darmanin convened fellow ministers responsible for immigration from Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium on Sunday for talks about the Channel migrant crisis, four days after an unprecedented accident saw 27 people drown in the busy sea lane.

They met without Britain which was excluded after a row last week between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Darmanin again blamed Britain for the presence of thousands of migrants in northern France, alleging that more relaxed labour practices on the other side of the Channel were creating a “pull effect” tempting migrants across in hope of finding work.

Many migrants around Calais also say they want to travel to the UK because they speak some English already, or have family and friends in the country.

Around 26,000 people have sailed from France to England this year, leading to severe pressure on the UK government which had vowed to reduce migration after pushing through Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Johnson has suggested sending police and border agents to patrol alongside their French counterparts on the beaches of northern France — something rejected by Paris in the past as an infringement on sovereignty.

More controversially, he proposed sending back all migrants who land in England, a move which Johnson claimed would save “thousands of lives by fundamentally breaking the business model of the criminal gangs”.

France received 80,000 asylum requests in 2020 compared with 27,000 in the UK.

Investigations into last Wednesday’s accident continue, with French police giving no details officially about the circumstances or the identities of the victims.

A total of 17 men, seven women and three minors died, with migrants living along the coast telling AFP that the deceased were mostly Iraqis, Iranians and Afghans.