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LATEST: Macron vows not to let Channel ‘become a cemetery’ after at least 27 people die

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday France would not let the Channel become a cemetery after at least 27 people died when their boat sank off the coast of Calais.

Dozens of people have died in the Channel after trying to cross illegally into England from France in a small boat like this one.
Dozens of people have died in the Channel after trying to cross illegally into England from France in a small boat like this one. (Photo by Marc SANYE / AFP)

Macron announced that his government would hold a crisis meeting along with PM Jean Castex on Thursday morning.

The latest reports said  least 27 refugees and migrants died trying to cross the Channel from France to England when their boat sank off the northern port of Calais. The tragedy is the deadliest single disaster on the intensively-used migrant route.

Seventeen men, seven women and three minors died when the boat sank off the northern coast of France on Wednesday, according to public prosecutors in Lille.

Two of the passengers in the boat were pulled from the water alive.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “appalled and shocked” by the incident but suggested efforts by the French to stop the crossings “haven’t been enough”.

Johnson said the UK was offering to send officers “to help patrol the beaches concerned, on the launching grounds for these boats.”

“That’s something I hope will be acceptable now in the view of what has happened,” he said.

Macron however called for reinforcements from the EU’s external border management force Frontex and a crisis meeting of EU leaders. 

The French interior ministry said in a statement that French patrol vessels found corpses and people unconscious in the water after a fisherman sounded the alarm about the accident.

Three helicopters and three boats took part in the search, local authorities said. French prosecutors have opened a manslaughter probe.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who is heading to the scene, wrote on Twitter that “many people” had died in the incident, adding that “the criminal nature of the smugglers who organise these crossings cannot be condemned enough.”

Later on Wednesday he announced the arrest of four suspected human traffickers linked to the fateful crossing.

“The traffickers are primarily responsible for this situation,” he said.

“It is an appalling situation for France, for Europe and for humanity to se these people perish at sea because of people smugglers,” Darmanin told a press conference on Wednesday evenng.

READ ALSO What is France doing to prevent migrant crossings to the UK?

“The disaster in the Channel is a tragedy,” added Prime Minister Jean Castex.

“My thoughts are with the many missing and injured, victims of criminal smugglers who exploit their distress and misery,” he wrote on Twitter.

The disaster, the worst single loss of life recorded in recent times from migrant crossings in the Channel, comes as tensions grow between London and Paris over the record numbers of people crossing.

Britain has urged tougher action from France to stop migrants making the voyage.

Growing post-Brexit tensions

According to the French authorities, 31,500 people attempted to leave for Britain since the start of the year and 7,800 people have been rescued at sea, figures which doubled since August.

Seven people have been confirmed dead or are still missing feared drowned after various incidents this year.

In Britain, the ruling right-wing Conservative party of Prime Minister Boris Johnson is coming under intense pressure, including from its own supporters, to reduce the numbers crossing.

READ MORE:

French police said this week they detained 15 suspected members of an international migrant smuggling syndicate that helped people illegally cross the Channel to Britain.

The network of Iraqi Kurds, Romanians, Pakistanis and Vietnamese helped a minimum of 250 people per month cross to England, using small boats that transport up to 60 migrants at a time.

Passage to England would cost a migrant €6,000 and the smugglers racked up some €3 million in total profits.

According to British authorities, more than 25,000 people have now arrived illegally so far this year, already triple the figure recorded in 2020.

The issue has added to growing post-Brexit tensions between Britain and France, with a row on fishing rights also still unresolved.

Member comments

  1. If all those that had crossed the Channel last week had been returned to France, how many would have risked the crossing this week ? No migrant pays for a round trip.

    1. Very true Alan but, according to the British press, it’s all our fault. There is always an article accompanied by a photo of just a couple of police watching them depart. Well, just what do you expect them to do against a large group of desperate migrants accompanied by minders on a desolate stretch of coastline. The British police can’t even clear OAPs from blocking major roads. When there are at least a dozen fat doughnut munching police watching them and giving them advice. People in class houses springs to mind.👿

      1. French police are armed aren’t they ? What are they scared of ? There are only 2 ways of solving the problem – either stop the migrants leaving ( and you say the police aren’t up to that ) or accept return of the migrants making the crossing so other migrants don’t bother. Trouble is that there doesn’t seem to be the political will to do what’s necessary

        1. I never said that our police were not up to the job but had more sense then to go up against a large group of desperate people or do you expect the police to shoot them? I suppose you are one of the Daily Mail readers that rejoiced at the drowning yesterday. Why should we stop any of them leaving? What’s the advantage to us? None at all. The advantage to you, is that you will have a workforce, when they are processed, that will do all the dirty jobs you think are beneath you.

          1. It does seem you’re still saying the police aren’t up to the job , but whether you are or not it does seem to be self-evident. As for the advantage to France in preventing crossings ( apart from it being their responsibility as a sovereign country ) France will find a lot fewer migrants coming to France in the first place if they’ve got no onward route to UK. BTW the police don’t need to shoot anyone, just disable the boat.

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POLITICS

A #MeToo scandal too far in France?

The latest #MeToo scandal in France followed a familiar playbook: allegations of abuse against a senior politician, intense media attention, then a resignation. Except this time, some feminists wonder if the campaign to root out male misconduct has gone too far.

A #MeToo scandal too far in France?

At the centre of the maelstrom is Julien Bayou, the 42-year-old leader of the pro-feminist EELV green party who resigned in late September after being accused by a rival lawmaker from his party of behaviour “that causes mental breakdowns in women”.

The full facts remain unclear — no internal party or police enquiry has been completed — but Bayou’s former partner was said to have suffered from depression after the end of their relationship in November 2021.

That has raised questions about whether he is liable for her mental distress — no physical or sexual abuse was alleged — as well as his right to privacy.

“It was a very painful break-up with suffering on both sides,” Bayou told Le Monde newspaper in an interview on Tuesday in which he denied any criminal behaviour or “psychological violence”.

“I am not responsible for the suffering, which is real, of my ex-partner,” he said.

He claimed he had been the victim of modern-day McCarthyism, a reference to efforts in the United States of the 1950s to root out communists during which simple accusations of left-wing sympathies were enough to drive many people from their jobs.

“Feminism, yes, obviously, always. McCarthyism is something else,” added the former grassroots social activist.

Commenting on fellow EELV lawmaker Sandrine Rousseau, who publicised his break-up and his ex’s mental struggles while taking part in a television show, he said: “She went too far.”

On Tuesday evening, he added during a televised interview: “It’s irresponsible to… make accusations without corroborating” them.

“I am innocent of the facts that have not been presented to me and against which I cannot defend myself,” he said.

Collateral damage?

Liberation newspaper also revealed at the weekend that a group of feminists had been investigating Bayou privately, speaking to his former partners with a view to building a case against him.

He likened the experience to being “put under surveillance”.

The case has sparked an internal crisis in EELV at the same time as its larger left-wing ally, the France Unbowed party, has been embarrassed by news that one of its senior parliamentarians slapped his wife.

Three ministers in President Emmanuel Macron’s governments since 2016 have been accused of rape, most recently social cohesion minister Damien Abad, who was sacked in July. All three deny the allegations.

But Bayou has found support among some of the usual backers of the #MeToo movement, which since 2017 has helped highlight the prevalence of sexual abuse by men.

“A break-up, even more so when it is the result of a unilateral decision, is violent by its nature,” read an editorial defending Bayou in the left-wing Liberation last week.

Socialist former women’s rights minister Laurence Rossignol referred to “dysfunctions” in the way he had been treated, adding: “These things should not be sorted out in television studios.”

And well-known feminist writer Caroline Fourest raised her misgivings, saying that women needed to continue to denounce their aggressors, but that journalists and politicians needed to be aware of the risk of allegations being instrumentalised.

“Today there are men and women who are collateral victims of the explosion in speaking out,” she told L’Opinion magazine.

Justice denied?

In Bayou’s case, his accuser has not spoken publicly or through a lawyer about her allegations, leaving the claims by Rousseau — an ambitious, internal rival — as the only evidence against him.

In July, Bayou’s former partner approached an internal committee of the EELV party tasked with investigating allegations of sexual misconduct, but then declined to testify.

That meant the enquiry stalled, leaving Bayou unable to give his version of events despite asking to be auditioned on four occasions.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said he was “fed up” with efforts by political parties to set up their own investigations into sexual harassment.

“The judicial system is the only place in a democracy where justice can be delivered,” he told a committee in parliament on September 27.

But many feminist campaigners disagree.

They point out that the overwhelming majority of rape or sexual assault cases conclude without convictions and that women often decline to lodge police complaints because they view it as pointless.

Many highly regulated professions — from medics to lawyers — also have internal disciplinary processes that sanction members outside of the judicial system.

Rousseau said on Sunday she had no regrets about denouncing her colleague “at a moment when there was a need for transparency.”

“I am protecting the struggle of women and I will continue to protect it. I won’t give up,” she told France 3.

Bayou remains a member of parliament and has vowed to clear his name.

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