LONDON - Footage of French police watching a dinghy of migrants leave for the UK on the day of the Channel crossing tragedy has received widespread condemnation.
The French regional maritime authority said 27 people died after a migrant boat capsized on Wednesday, prompting Boris Johnson to hold an emergency Cobra meeting to discuss the issue of Channel crossings.
A clip showing French police standing and watching as people got in a boat and started their journey across the Channel was criticised as “disgraceful”.
The footage, captured by journalists from Reuters, shows a group of more than 40 migrants attempting a crossing in Wimereux, around 30 km from Calais.
The group, which included six children, are seen hauling a rubber dinghy into the water at daybreak on Wednesday. A French police vehicle flashes its lights at them to stop, before later leaving the area to continue its patrol further along the beach.
Dover MP Natalie Elphicke told BBC Breakfast: “Yesterday we saw footage of French police standing by while people got the boat ready, picked up the engine and took to the water on the French side.
“They did absolutely nothing. That’s unacceptable and that’s got to change.”
Elphicke said the British “are standing by willing to put people to help” and described the issue of Channel crossings as “a humanitarian crisis on the shores of France”.
She added: “These people smugglers must not be allowed to continue to ply their trade and put people’s lives at risk in these wintry seas
“It is vital that action’s taken and the only way to do that is to stop people on the beaches of France from getting into the boats and turning them around quickly in French waters.”
Zoe Gardner, from the Joint Council of Welfare for Immigrants, criticised French police – but unlike Elphicke, she did not call on the crossings to be stopped altogether.
Instead, Gardner said police in the video should not have allowed migrants to make the crossing on “unsafe vessels”, and called for authorities to “offer people alternatives” to the smuggling boats.
She said: “The French are patrolling their own borders insufficiently, it’s absolutely horrendous, those images of the French police standing by while children got onto one of those unsafe vessels are shocking to me.”
Gardner said the tragedy was “completely predictable” and “completely preventable”.
She added: “This has to be a time for our government to mark a turning point, this tragedy must not be allowed to continue and that means changing our approach, not more of the same failed policies.
“We need to offer people alternatives to the smuggling boats.”
Boris Johnson on Wednesday called on France to agree to joint police patrols along the French Channel coast – but French politicians pointed the finger at UK authorities for failing to tackle the issue.
Pierre-Henri Dumont, the MP for Calais, rejected the prime minister’s proposal as a “crazy solution” that “will not change anything” along the vast shoreline.
Mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart said it is the British who are to blame for the tragedy and called on Johnson to “face up to his responsibilities”.
Franck Dhersin, vice president of transport for the northern Hauts-de-France region, said the “mafia chiefs” at the top of the trafficking networks live in the UK and must be arrested.
“And the mafia chiefs live in London… They live in London peacefully, in beautiful villas, they earn hundreds of millions of euros every year, and they reinvest that money in the City,” he told French TV station BFMTV.
But Bruno Bonnell, an MP representing president Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche! party in France, said he would not be opposed to the UK helping to police the French border – as long as it wasn’t politicised by the UK.
Asked whether Macron would allow British police officers on to French soil to help tackle the flow of migrant crossings, Bonnell told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “As long as it is really a common operation and not a way to twist information once more, pretending that the French people are turning their eyes off those long boat departures.
“I think that is something that could probably help the situation, and I would support that.”