Relatives of Kurdish woman who drowned in the English Channel demand action

France and Britain urged to work together and help migrants avoid 'route of death'

Messages reading 'How many more deaths' and 'borders kill' are illuminated by candlelight during a Paris demonstration in support of migrants. Photo: EPA
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The bodies of migrants who drowned in the English Channel this week have been recovered and their details are being made public but the political will to prevent another disaster appears to be mired in Anglo-French discord.

Baran Nuri Muhamadamin, 24, from Iraqi Kurdistan was travelling to be with her fiancé in Britain. She has been the first woman to be publicly identified.

Her fiancé said he had been tracking the student during the crossing and saw her GPS signal disappear. Her grieving father, Nuri Mohammed Mohammed Amin, and a cousin want the tragedy to put pressure on governments to stop people-smuggling gangs.

But the two governments most closely involved – Britain and France – are barely speaking after a long-running dispute over the best way to handle the migrant crisis, and a host of other factors.

For a couple of days, it appeared Paris and London were both putting the tragedy first and setting aside their differences.

Then UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted a letter sent to President Emmanuel Macron demanding joint patrols along France’s northern coast and a bilateral returns agreement to allow migrants who have travelled to the UK illegally to be sent back to France.

The public posting of the Johnson letter angered France enough for Paris to withdraw an invite for the UK to join Sunday's international summit on the issue in France.

Mr Macron said: "One leader does not communicate with another on these questions on Twitter, by public letter. We are not whistle-blowers. No, no."

Other factors keeping tensions high include the continuing fallout from Brexit and the Aukus intelligence agreement between the UK, US and Australia that led to France losing out on submarine-building contracts.

On Friday, French fishermen blockaded traffic in the English Channel in a protest over post-Brexit fishing rights. The fishing industry is economically small but politically symbolic in both countries.

Despite the political crisis sparked by the human tragedy – the worst fatal migrant crossing the Channel in recent years – the issue of migrants trying to reach the UK from France goes back even longer.

UK Home Office minister Damian Hinds insisted on Saturday that the partnership between France and Britain is strong as he defended the Johnson letter.

"Nobody is proposing breaching sovereignty; the prime minister's letter proposes doing things which go further than we have gone to date," he said.

UK responsible for an 'abysmal failure'

Three children and seven women were among the 27 migrants who drowned as they attempted the perilous crossing through one the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

Ben Greening, Executive Director of Migration Watch UK, said the Anglo-French dispute was a “shambles” and that had sprung up “as a result of the mess that’s been allowed to take root” in the Channel.

He said both sides were to blame for a lack of decisive action in recent months which could have prevented migrants from undertaking the perilous journey.

However, he said the UK government in particular is responsible for an “abysmal failure” to put measures in place to stop small boats from crossing the sea illegally.

“The horrendous tragedy we saw a couple of days ago was, very sadly, predictable because we knew that these routes were dangerous,” Mr Greening told The National.

“People had already died before that, and yet the combined incompetence of the governments of France and the UK have allowed this situation to get worse before our very eyes.”

Almost 6,880 people have crossed the Channel in small boats since the start of November, according to figures from Migration Watch, bringing the overall total for this year to 26,631.

That is more than three times the total for last year when 8,461 people landed on British soil after making the voyage from northern France.

Baran Nuri Muhamadamin’s fiancé spoke about how he watched her come so close to reaching Britain, tracking her GPS signal.

"After four hours and 18 minutes from the moment she went into that boat, I think they were in the middle of the sea, then I lost her," he said.

A cousin also urged the British and French governments to help people resettle rather than "force them to take this route of death".

With most of the bodies not yet identified, more migrants living at a makeshift camp near Dunkirk still hope to attempt the crossing.

Updated: November 27, 2021, 3:04 PM
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