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MIGRANT CRISIS

Tributes for migrants, one year after ‘avoidable’ Channel tragedy

Tributes and demonstrations took place in France on Thursday for the 27 migrants who died exactly a year ago in a Channel boat disaster that France's interior minister has admitted should have been prevented.

Tributes for migrants, one year after 'avoidable' Channel tragedy
Emergency services at Calais on the night, last year, 27 migrants died when their boat sank in the Channel. (Photo by FRANCOIS LO PRESTI / AFP)

Several boats packed with rescuers and local elected figures took to sea off the coast of Dunkirk on Thursday to mark the anniversary of the most deadly migrant accident in the Channel on record.

They tossed wreaths into the water and paused to remember the 27 people, mostly from Iraq, who perished when their inflatable boat floundered overnight in the middle of the shipping channel between France and Britain.

“It’s a tragedy that we were expecting and there will probably be others,” said the head of the local branch of the SNSM lifeboat service, Alain Ledaguenel.

Elsewhere, a protest march organised by a local charity saw people walk from the centre of Dunkirk to the beach behind a banner reading “Your borders, our dead”.

One of the marchers read out the names of the deceased while facing the water.

‘Should have intervened’

Documents from a French investigation into the accident that have been reported in the media suggest that French and British sea rescue coordinators passed the buck as the boat sank.

In the first SOS calls, the boat appears to have been just inside French waters but drifting towards the British boundary, but neither side sent out a
rescue boat, according to Le Monde newspaper.

“Everything that has been written is quite shocking,” French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told the France 3 TV channel on Wednesday evening. “From what I understand… we should have intervened because by the looks of things they were in French waters,” he added.

In Paris on Thursday evening, around 100 people demonstrated at the Place de la Republique. White leaves bearing the names of the dead were placed at the foot of the column in the centre of the square.

A letter was read out from the widow of a man who lost his life, the father of her two children, which said that he “did not deserve to die like that”.

Meanwhile, 65 humanitarian associations from Britain, Belgium and France have called on the British government to provide legal routes for asylum seekers in a joint letter published in Le Monde.

The British government has programmes to help Ukrainians and Afghan refugees, but many others are forced to cross the Channel to make a claim for
asylum.

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CRIME

French ex-minister convicted in fake jobs scam

A French court on Thursday found former justice minister Michel Mercier guilty of embezzlement in a fake jobs scheme he ran for the benefit of family members.

French ex-minister convicted in fake jobs scam

Mercier, 75, who served under former president Nicolas Sarkozy between 2010 and 2012, claimed tens of thousands of euros for his wife and daughter for parliamentary jobs  they never carried out.

The court handed him a suspended prison sentence of three years.

Mercier gave “personal gain precedence over the public good”, the court said in its verdict, calling Mercier’s actions “serious”.

As senator, Mercier claimed 50,000 euros ($54,000 at today’s rate) in salary for his wife Joelle between 2005 and 2009, and  €37,000 for his daughter Delphine between 2012 and 2014.

During that time, Delphine Mercier was living in London and did not set foot in the French Senate, but her father claimed she was acting as his “cultural advisor”.

Neither Mercier nor his daughter were able to provide any proof of actual work done.

Joelle Mercier, meanwhile, claimed during the trial that she had served as her husband’s representative at village fairs and funerals.

She was found guilty of conspiracy to embezzle public funds and of receiving stolen money and sentenced to a suspended prison term of 18 months and a €40,000 fine.

The court handed the daughter a 12-month suspended sentence and a fine of €10,000.

Prosecutors had asked for the ex-minister to serve one year behind bars, accusing him of “creating smoke screens” in his defence and seeking to mislead the court.

Mercier had based part of his defence on his rural roots, pitting his “common sense” against the “Parisians” of the national financial crimes unit PNF.

Several French politicians have been convicted for similar offences committed before France in 2017 banned National Assembly deputies and senators from employing family members.

The move came in reaction to a public outcry over a high-profile case involving former right-wing prime minister Francois Fillon, who was found guilty of providing a fake parliamentary assistant job to his wife that saw her paid hundreds of thousands of euros in public funds.

The “Penelopegate” scandal, revealed in a media report while he was the front-runner in the 2017 presidential race, torpedoed  his political career and cleared a path for then-relatively unknown Emmanuel Macron.

Last year, a court trimmed Fillon’s sentence to four years in prison with three suspended — down from five years with three suspended when he was first found guilty in 2020.

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