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France said on Thursday it was mobilizing reservists and stepping up sea rescue operations, as it traded blame with London for the deaths of 27 migrants trying to reach Britain on a rubber boat.
The migrants drowned when their inflatable dinghy deflated in the English Channel on Wednesday, one of several perilous journeys that migrants take each year on rickety and overcrowded boats as they seek to escape poverty back home.
The deaths raised more tension between two countries already at odds over Britain’s exit from the European Union, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying France was to blame and French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin accusing Britain of “mismanaging the immigration file”.
President Emmanuel Macron defended Paris’ actions but said France was just a “transit country” for most migrants on its soil and that strengthening European cooperation was necessary to tackle illegal immigration.
“I will say … very clearly that our security forces are on alert day and night,” Macron said during a visit to the Croatian capital Zagreb, vowing to “maximum mobilization” of French forces with the deployment of reservists and drones to monitor the coast.
sensitive political issue
Wednesday’s accident was the worst incident of its kind in the waterway that separates Britain and France, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and known for its strong water currents and low water temperatures.
With relations fraught with tension that have been simmering for years over Britain’s exit from the European Union and the issue of immigration, much of the focus on Thursday was on who should take responsibility, even as the two sides pledged to work together to find common solutions.
“We’ve had a hard time persuading some of our partners, particularly the French, to take action that we think is necessary,” Johnson said.
Britain repeated its proposal to conduct joint Anglo-French patrols off the French coast near Calais, where many migrants set out for Britain.
Paris has previously resisted such calls and it is not clear whether it will change its mind five months before a presidential election in which immigration and security are key issues.
The issues are also sensitive in Britain, where the pro-Brexit camp has convinced voters that the move would mean taking back control of the country’s borders.
London has threatened in the past to cut off financial support for French border control efforts if Paris fails to stem the flow of migrants.
The French Foreign Ministry said that the agreement (Le Touquet) for the management of the borders between France and Britain will remain the basis of the process of controlling their common borders.
Some French opposition parties had called on the government to withdraw from the 2003 agreement.
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