Top European immigration officials held an emergency meeting in the French port of Calais on Sunday to find ways to better fight migrant smuggling while trying to cross the English Channel into Britain in an overcrowded inflatable boat after 27 people died. for.
UK officials were notably absent from the gathering at Calais city hall after Wednesday’s sinking sparked a new political crisis between Britain and France. Neighbors accuse each other of not doing enough to stop people from taking the treacherous journey.
British Home Secretary Priti Patel said it was “unfortunate” she was not invited to the meeting, and reiterated Britain’s offer to return migrants to France. French officials strongly rejected the idea when it was initially proposed, and said Britain was no longer welcome in Sunday’s talks.
France is conducting an organized crime investigation into the drowning – the deadliest migration accident on the Channel on record. Iraqi Kurds and at least one Somali were among those on board, although most have not been publicly identified.
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Government ministers from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France met in Calais with officials from the European Union, the EU border agency Frontex and the police agency Europol. They are focusing on smuggling networks, which charge 3,000 to 7,000 euros ($3,400 to $7,900) for travel across the channel. French Interior Minister Gerald Darminin said a car with a German license tag had been confiscated in connection with the investigation.
Earlier on Sunday, Patel met Dutch Migration Minister Anki Brokers-Knoll and stressed “the need for European partners to work together” through shared intelligence and joint policing initiatives, according to his office.
“Both agreed that withdrawal agreements are necessary to break the criminal business model,” it said.
The EU’s home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, tweeted that fighting smugglers is “key” to any solution, and called for a common approach. EU countries have long argued over how to manage migration.
Aid groups, meanwhile, are arguing for more humane, coordinated asylum policies, rather than just more police. In makeshift camps near the French coast, groups of people from Sudan, Iran and Iraq are covered in cold rain, waiting for their chance to cross the Channel. They are unimpressed by Wednesday’s deaths or steps to increase beach patrols.
Amid pandemic travel restrictions and the UK’s Brexit departure from the European Union, there has been a jump in the number of migrants trying to cross the Channel in small boats this year. Overall, however, the number of migrants arriving in the UK is smaller than in other European countries.