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French President Macron urged EU ministers with responsibility for migration to gather and discuss Wednesday evening’s tragedy, which saw 27 people drown in the English Channel, to prevent the route from becoming a “cemetery”. Prime Minister Jean Castex is holding a crisis on Thursday morning meeting to discuss a response.
France had earlier put the number of deaths at 31 but upon revision confirmed 27 people had lost their lives during the attempted crossing.
Calling for joint action, Mr Macron said: “We must accelerate the dismantling of networks together with Britain, Belgium, Holland and Germany.
“If we don’t increase our efforts, other tragedies will occur.”
French police on Wednesday arrested four human traffickers suspected of involvement in the accident.
Since the start of the year, Mr Macron said, they had dismantled 44 gangs and arrested 1,552 traffickers, for whom the crossings are a lucrative business.
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Lamenting the tragedy, he added: “I won’t let the Channel become a cemetery.
“It is what Europe carries most deeply — humanism, respect for everyone’s dignity — which is grieving.”
Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, suggested Mr Macron was politicising migrants like President Lukashenko of Belarus and said he was being soft on the gangs.
She said: “We must not use the migrants as a weapon [against Britain].
“That must not happen.”
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, presidential candidate of the far-left La France Insoumise group, said: “Shame on those who are responsible and first and foremost the traffickers.”
He added: “France is neither Britain’s border guard nor its jailer.”
Emergency: At least 27 people died on Wednesday trying to cross the Channel from France to the UK
Franck Dhersin, the deputy chairman of the Hauts-de-France regional council in northern France, put the blame on the UK: “I am angry with the English because the heads of the trafficking gangs are all in England and that is where they make their money.”
In a phone call on Wednesday night, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Mr Macron agreed to step up efforts to prevent migrants from making the perilous journey.
Mr Johnson, who said he was “shocked and appaled” by the “disaster”, admitted the UK’s efforts to stem the crossings had not been enough.
He claimed: “It also shows how vital it is that we now step up our efforts to break the business model of the gangsters who are sending people to sea in this way.”
He added people trafficking gangs were “literally getting away with murder”.
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People who survived the journey through the Channel arriving in Kent on Wednesday
The UK has pledged to give France £54m this and next year to help increase police patrols along its coastline, boost aerial surveillance and increase security infrastructure at ports.
The plan has not proven helpful yet.
Mr Johnson called on France to accept British border patrols along the French coast, but the French leader viewed the approach as to fit the UK “for political purposes”.
This follows discussions among MPs who said Home Secretary Priti Patel should be willing to automatically return migrants to France if the Conservative Party is to meet the Brexit pledge of taking control of the UK’s borders.
Regaining control of Britain’s borders was a key argument for Brexit campaigners ahead of the 2016 referendum.
Ms Patel told the House of Commons on Tuesday: “This is an ongoing conversation, discussion that we are having with them [France] and I am actively pursuing this.
“But I want to be very, very clear and realising about this, this is only one aspect to a wider situation dealing with illegal migration.”
Downing Street on Wednesday confirmed Mr Johnson and Mr Macron agreed on the importance of collaboration with neighbours in Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as other EU nations, to tackle the issue before people reach the French coast.
Ms Patel tweeted: “My thoughts are with the families of all of those who have tragically lost their lives in French waters today.
“It serves as the starkest possible reminder of the dangers of these Channel crossings organised by ruthless criminal gangs.”
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