The drowning tragedy in the English Channel was a “dreadful shock” but “not a surprise,” the UK’s home secretary told lawmakers on Thursday.
There is “no quick fix” to the “complicated issue,” Priti Patel said in remarks in Parliament after 31 migrants drowned when an inflatable vessel bound trying to reach Britain from France sank in the Channel.
“This is about addressing long-term pull factors, smashing the criminal gangs that treat human beings as cargo and tackling supply chains. It does need a Herculean effort and it will be impossible without close cooperation between all international partners and agencies,” she said.
“We are not working to end these crossings because we don’t care or are heartless,” she added, insisting that Britain has a “clear, generous and a humane approach” to dealing with the issue.
Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds told MPs that Wednesday’s incident was the “most awful of reminders of the dangers of crossing the Channel and that people’s lives are at risk every day.”
“It’s a sobering moment, for our country, for France and for the international community,” he said.
“Yesterday’s terrible tragedy must be a moment for change. The time for urgent action to save lives is now,” he added.
British press reacts
Wednesday’s tragedy dominated the front pages of British newspapers, with many blaming France.
The right-wing Daily Mail’s front page read: “Tragedy in the Channel. At 7.15am yesterday French police sit and watch as people traffickers launch migrants on perilous trip to Britain. Hours later, 31 others drown in horrific Channel disaster. Now despairing PM tells Macron … You’re Letting Gangs Get Away With Murder.”
Right-wing publication The Sun said: “Now will leaders finally act? SHAMEFUL. French police idly look on as rafts head to UK. Hours later, 33 migrants die … one a little girl.”
The left-wing Daily Mirror’s front page read: “Within hours of these little children being crammed into a dinghy for a perilous journey to the UK … under the noses of watching French cops … 31 other desperate people had died in the freezing English Channel. A Human Tragedy.”
The Guardian, a liberal and left-wing paper, went with: “Tragedy at sea claims 31 lives in deadliest day of refugee crisis.”
A report in the right-wing The Daily Telegraph – titled “The day the luck ran out: How the migrant tragedy unfolded in the Channel” – read:
“Hours before the disaster, the French police had stood and watched; done nothing to prevent a flimsy rubber dinghy from launching into the Channel for the perilous journey to Britain.
“They had turned a blind eye, seemingly unconcerned by the huge risks being taken by the 40 or so desperate migrants carrying the vessel into the water. An alarming photograph showed police officers watching the people smugglers putting their human cargo to sea and failing to intervene. That boat, on that occasion, made it.
“Another, launching a few miles away from close to Calais, did not.”