UK authorities should make greater efforts to arrest the heads of human trafficking networks living in London, a leading French politician has said.
Boris Johnson has called on France to allow joint patrols along the French coast to crack down on boat crossings following the tragedy which saw a dinghy capsize in the Channel, causing the loss of 27 lives.
But French politicians have pointed the finger at British officials for failing to tackle the “mafia chiefs” behind people-smuggling operations – suggesting tax authorities could do more.
Franck Dhersin, the vice president of transport for the northern Hauts-de-France region, told French TV station BFMTV: “In France what do we do? We arrest the smugglers.
“To fight them, there’s only one way – we need to stop the organisations, you need to arrest the mafia chiefs. And the mafia chiefs live in London.”
He added: “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. And so it’s very easy for the tax authorities to find them.”
French interior minister Gerald Darmanin said the loss of 27 lives was an “absolute tragedy” – blaming human trafficking gangs who promised people the “El Dorado of England” for a large fee.
“It’s an international problem … We tell our Belgian, German and British friends they should help us fight traffickers that work at an international level,” Mr Darmanin told French radio station RTL.
Home secretary Priti Patel will speak to Mr Darmanin on Thursday morning following Mr Johnson’s call with president Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday evening.
Mr Johnson said it was clear that French operations to stop the migrant boats leaving “haven’t been enough” despite £54m of UK support, adding that the people traffickers were “literally getting away with murder”.
Pierre-Henri Dumont, the MP for Calais, said he did not think that more patrols around the French border was the solution to the Channel migrant crisis.
“I’m not sure that having more police officers or more materials on the French shore will help to stop these crossings because we have 200 or 300 kilometres of shore to monitor 24/7,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Conservative MP Kevin Foster, immigration minister, rejected the idea that UK officials could process asylum claims in France.
“I don’t think it would be effective because, let’s be upfront, actually to get that type of centre, you’d have to already get yourself trafficked across the Mediterranean, where literally thousands of people have lost their lives coming across,” the minister told LBC.
Zoe Gardner from the Joint Council of Welfare for Immigrants told BBC Breakfast that the French were “patrolling their own borders insufficiently” – pointing to a photograph which appeared to show a French patrol vehicle allowing migrants to launch a dinghy.
“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,” she said.