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France holds 10 suspects in English Channel migrant disaster

#France #holds #suspects #English #Channel #migrant #disaster

French police are detaining 10 people suspected of being involved in the November 2021 drowning of migrants in the Canal in which 27 people died, a justice source said on Thursday.

One has been charged with manslaughter and human trafficking and the nine others are due to appear before a judge who will decide whether they will also be charged, the source said, asking not to be named.

Police arrested 15 suspects in an overnight operation Sunday through Monday as part of their month-long investigation into the disaster and released five of them without charge.

The death of the 27 in late November was the worst accident in the English Channel since 2018, when the strait became a major route for migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia, who increasingly use small boats to reach England from France.

Among the 27 – aged between seven and 47 – were 16 Iraqi Kurds, four Afghans, three Ethiopians, one Somali, one Egyptian and one Vietnamese migrant.

Only two people survived the disaster, which sparked tensions between the British and French governments.

President Emmanuel Macron promised France would not allow the canal to become a “cemetery”.

France urged Britain to do more to help fight people-smuggling gangs, and Home Secretary Gerald Darmanin said: “We need intelligence. Answers to inquiries from the French police are not always given.”

The rebuke followed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suggestion that all migrants and asylum seekers who land in England be sent back to France, which Paris rejected.

– Brexit context –

Following the UK’s exit from the European Union, it has no repatriation agreement with France or the EU more broadly.

The row added to a litany of post-Brexit disputes between the two sides, which included a row over fishing rights in the English Channel that at times threatened to degenerate into a full-blown trade war.

Despite a more conciliatory tone since then and promises of more cooperation, the number of migrants trying to cross the Channel from France to England has skyrocketed in the first half of this year, according to the French interior ministry.

From January 1 to June 13, there were 777 attempted crossings involving 20,132 people, up 68 percent from the same period last year, it said.

The ministry said French security forces prevented most of the crossings, with 61.39 percent of attempts thwarted in the first half, up 4.2 percent from a year earlier.

Full-year 2021 figures were already a record, but the latest stats show that if current trends continue as summer weather sets in, encouraging more sailings, that could be surpassed.

About 52,000 people attempted to cross the border in 2021, according to French authorities, with 28,000 of the migrants succeeding.

The numbers come as the UK seeks to tighten its policy against arrivals.

Britain has repeatedly accused French authorities of not doing enough to halt crossings.

In a controversial policy, the UK plans to deport illegal migrants, including those arriving via the English Channel, to Rwanda as part of a deal with the African nation.

However, the first flight earlier this month was canceled after a last-minute intervention by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), infuriating London.

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