UK and France Escalate War of Words After at Least 27 People Drown Crossing English Channel

A life jacket is left after a group of migrants got on an inflatable dinghy, to leave the coast of northern France and to cross the English Channel, near Wimereux, France, November 24, 2021. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

British and French leaders have ramped up a war of words over dangerous crossings of the English Channel after at least 27 people died making the sea journey Wednesday, bringing to a head simmering tensions in the migration crisis.

Ministers from both sides of the Channel on Thursday laid blame with their counterparts after dozens of people — including a pregnant woman — drowned in bitterly cold waters off the French coast when their inflatable vessel bound for Britain sank. It is one of the largest losses of life in the English Channel in recent years.

The dead include 17 men, seven women, and three young people who “could be teenagers,” according to the French prosecutor’s office. One of the first rescue personnel to arrive at the scene, Charles Devos of the Société Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer (SNSM), said he found the dead body of a pregnant woman.

The majority of the victims were Iraqi citizens, France’s Calais port director Jean-Marc Puissesseau told CNN. Likewise, Iraqi Kurds appear to be among the victims, the Prime Minister of the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq said Thursday. Authorities are working to establish their identities, Masrour Barzani posted on Twitter, adding that “our thoughts are with their families.”

French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson both expressed horror at the tragedy, with Macron saying his country would not let the Channel become a graveyard. The leaders agreed to step up joint efforts to prevent the migrant crossings — which have increased dramatically this year — but also accused each other of not doing enough.

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SOURCE: CNN, Sheena McKenzie, Helen Regan, Xiaofei Xu, and Niamh Kennedy