Top European migration officials are holding an emergency meeting in the French port of Calais on Sunday to find ways to better tackle migrant smuggling, after 27 people died trying to cross the English Channel to Britain in an overcrowded inflatable boat.
British officials will notably be absent from the rally at Calais town hall, after Wednesday’s sinking sparked a new political crisis between Britain and France. Neighbors accuse each other of not doing enough to dissuade people from undertaking the dangerous journey.
France is leading a nationwide organized crime investigation into the sinking, the deadliest migration accident on record in the English Channel. Iraqi Kurds and at least one Somali were among those on board, although most have yet to be publicly identified.
Ministers from the governments of Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France will meet in Calais with officials from the European Union and the European border agency Frontex and the police agency Europol.
They focus on the networks of smugglers, who charge 3,000 to 7,000 euros for the trip across the Channel. French Interior Minister Grad Darmanin said a car bearing German labels had been seized as part of the investigation.
Aid groups are advocating for more humane and coordinated asylum policies instead of just more policing. In camps along the French coast, groups of Sudanese and Kurds from Iran and Iraq huddle in the cold rain, waiting for their chance to cross the English Channel. They are undeterred by Wednesday’s deaths or intensified beach patrols.
The number of migrants trying to cross the Channel in small boats has surged this year, amid pandemic travel restrictions and post-Brexit. Overall, however, the number of migrants arriving in Britain is low compared to other European countries.
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