LATEST: Macron vows not to let Channel ‘become a cemetery’ after at least 27 people die

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday France would not let the Channel become a cemetery after at least 27 people died when their boat sank off the coast of Calais.

Dozens of people have died in the Channel after trying to cross illegally into England from France in a small boat like this one.
Dozens of people have died in the Channel after trying to cross illegally into England from France in a small boat like this one. (Photo by Marc SANYE / AFP)

Macron announced that his government would hold a crisis meeting along with PM Jean Castex on Thursday morning.

The latest reports said  least 27 refugees and migrants died trying to cross the Channel from France to England when their boat sank off the northern port of Calais. The tragedy is the deadliest single disaster on the intensively-used migrant route.

Seventeen men, seven women and three minors died when the boat sank off the northern coast of France on Wednesday, according to public prosecutors in Lille.

Two of the passengers in the boat were pulled from the water alive.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “appalled and shocked” by the incident but suggested efforts by the French to stop the crossings “haven’t been enough”.

Johnson said the UK was offering to send officers “to help patrol the beaches concerned, on the launching grounds for these boats.”

“That’s something I hope will be acceptable now in the view of what has happened,” he said.

Macron however called for reinforcements from the EU’s external border management force Frontex and a crisis meeting of EU leaders. 

The French interior ministry said in a statement that French patrol vessels found corpses and people unconscious in the water after a fisherman sounded the alarm about the accident.

Three helicopters and three boats took part in the search, local authorities said. French prosecutors have opened a manslaughter probe.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who is heading to the scene, wrote on Twitter that “many people” had died in the incident, adding that “the criminal nature of the smugglers who organise these crossings cannot be condemned enough.”

Later on Wednesday he announced the arrest of four suspected human traffickers linked to the fateful crossing.

“The traffickers are primarily responsible for this situation,” he said.

“It is an appalling situation for France, for Europe and for humanity to se these people perish at sea because of people smugglers,” Darmanin told a press conference on Wednesday evenng.

READ ALSO What is France doing to prevent migrant crossings to the UK?

“The disaster in the Channel is a tragedy,” added Prime Minister Jean Castex.

“My thoughts are with the many missing and injured, victims of criminal smugglers who exploit their distress and misery,” he wrote on Twitter.

The disaster, the worst single loss of life recorded in recent times from migrant crossings in the Channel, comes as tensions grow between London and Paris over the record numbers of people crossing.

Britain has urged tougher action from France to stop migrants making the voyage.

Growing post-Brexit tensions

According to the French authorities, 31,500 people attempted to leave for Britain since the start of the year and 7,800 people have been rescued at sea, figures which doubled since August.

Seven people have been confirmed dead or are still missing feared drowned after various incidents this year.

In Britain, the ruling right-wing Conservative party of Prime Minister Boris Johnson is coming under intense pressure, including from its own supporters, to reduce the numbers crossing.


French police said this week they detained 15 suspected members of an international migrant smuggling syndicate that helped people illegally cross the Channel to Britain.

The network of Iraqi Kurds, Romanians, Pakistanis and Vietnamese helped a minimum of 250 people per month cross to England, using small boats that transport up to 60 migrants at a time.

Passage to England would cost a migrant €6,000 and the smugglers racked up some €3 million in total profits.

According to British authorities, more than 25,000 people have now arrived illegally so far this year, already triple the figure recorded in 2020.

The issue has added to growing post-Brexit tensions between Britain and France, with a row on fishing rights also still unresolved.

Member comments

  1. If all those that had crossed the Channel last week had been returned to France, how many would have risked the crossing this week ? No migrant pays for a round trip.

    1. Very true Alan but, according to the British press, it’s all our fault. There is always an article accompanied by a photo of just a couple of police watching them depart. Well, just what do you expect them to do against a large group of desperate migrants accompanied by minders on a desolate stretch of coastline. The British police can’t even clear OAPs from blocking major roads. When there are at least a dozen fat doughnut munching police watching them and giving them advice. People in class houses springs to mind.👿

      1. French police are armed aren’t they ? What are they scared of ? There are only 2 ways of solving the problem – either stop the migrants leaving ( and you say the police aren’t up to that ) or accept return of the migrants making the crossing so other migrants don’t bother. Trouble is that there doesn’t seem to be the political will to do what’s necessary

        1. I never said that our police were not up to the job but had more sense then to go up against a large group of desperate people or do you expect the police to shoot them? I suppose you are one of the Daily Mail readers that rejoiced at the drowning yesterday. Why should we stop any of them leaving? What’s the advantage to us? None at all. The advantage to you, is that you will have a workforce, when they are processed, that will do all the dirty jobs you think are beneath you.

          1. It does seem you’re still saying the police aren’t up to the job , but whether you are or not it does seem to be self-evident. As for the advantage to France in preventing crossings ( apart from it being their responsibility as a sovereign country ) France will find a lot fewer migrants coming to France in the first place if they’ve got no onward route to UK. BTW the police don’t need to shoot anyone, just disable the boat.

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Who is Élisabeth Borne, France’s new PM?

Elisabeth Borne, who is taking the reins of President Emmanuel Macron's government as the first female prime minister in over 30 years, is an experienced technocrat who enjoys the full confidence of the French leader.

Who is Élisabeth Borne, France's new PM?

The 61-year-old engineer proved her loyalty to Macron during his first term, serving as transport, environment and finally labour minister from 2020.

Borne is known for handling controversial transport and benefits reforms, which will be seen as a mighty advantage as Macron seeks to push through a highly-contested bid to raise France’s retirement age during his second mandate.

Borne will seek to make a greater impact than France’s first female prime minister Edith Cresson, who lasted less than a year in the early 1990s.

Macron had indicated he wanted a woman with left-wing and environmental credentials, and Borne ticked many boxes.

The president promised before the runoff vote in presidential elections in April to put the climate crisis at the heart of his second term and to task his prime minister with “ecological planning”.

As labour minister during the Covid-19 pandemic, Borne backed a range of measures to boost employment of the younger generation.

Borne, who is said to discreetly vape at the National Assembly parliament, was regularly on television at the height of the pandemic to remind the French to work from home and to defend the government’s job retention scheme.

Hospitalised due to the virus in March 2021, she was administered oxygen, an experience she described as nerve-wracking.

‘A real technocrat’

Far from being an extrovert figure who could overshadow the president in any way, she is a safe pair of hands who Macron can trust at a delicate time.

“She’s a real technocrat,” said a union source who asked not to be named.

And in the corridors of the ministries where she served, it is said she was nicknamed “Borne out” for her supposed harshness towards her collaborators, a play on words with “burn out”.

France’s second-ever female prime minister was born in Paris and studied at the elite Ecole Polytechnique.

According to an April survey by the Ifop pollster, 45 percent of people polled did not know who she was.

Little is known about her private life, apart from that she was born to a father who died when she was young and to a mother with very little income.

A lover of maths, Borne has said she finds in numbers “something quite reassuring, quite rational”.