Twenty-seven people have died near Calais after a migrant boat headed for the UK capsized in the English Channel, France’s interior minister has said.
Gerald Darmanin had earlier said 31 people had died but the number was later revised. He also said five women and a girl were among the victims who were found at around 2pm yesterday.
More than 25,700 people have made the dangerous journey to the UK in small boats this year - more than three times the 2020 total. But yesterday was the worst-ever incident involving migrants in the Channel, according to French maritime authorities.
Two people were saved from the water and the French authorities have arrested five suspected people traffickers in connection with the incident, while the regional prosecutor has opened an investigation into aggravated manslaughter.
Prime minister Boris Johnson chaired a meeting of the UK’s emergency COBRA committee in response and held an urgent phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron. Afterwards, he said the two had agreed to step up urgency to prevent the crossings.
Reacting to the tragedy, some charities and MPs blamed the UK’s immigration policies, saying they make people turn to desperate measures to find ways to enter the UK, while the government and other MPs turned to the issue of people trafficking gangs.
Others blamed home secretary Priti Patel and #SackPritiPatel was trending on Twitter.
Johnson said he was “shocked, appalled and deeply saddened” and that human traffickers were “literally getting away with murder”.
President Macron said: “Europe... is in mourning tonight.” He promised “everything will be done to find and condemn those responsible” and that “France will not let the Channel become a graveyard”.
My thoughts are with the families of all of those who have tragically lost their lives in French waters today.
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “This is a humanitarian disaster that should never have happened. It’s incomprehensible that so many lives have been lost by people on a desperate and harrowing journey to Britain who were just trying to find safety.
“Surely a tragedy of this magnitude is the wake up call our Government needs to change its approach and finally commit to an expansion of safe routes for those men, women and children in desperate need of protection. How many more lives must be lost before we finally end the cruel and dangerous tactic of seeking to punish or push away those who try and find safety in our country.”
Tom Davies, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights campaign manager, said the charity was “deeply saddened by the loss of these lives”, adding: “How many more times must we see people lose their life trying to reach safety in the UK because of the woeful lack of safe means to do so?
“We desperately need a new approach to asylum – including genuine Anglo-French efforts to devise safe asylum routes to avoid such tragedies happening again.”
British Red Cross chief executive Mike Adamson said the news comes “far too soon after other recent deaths on this route.”
He added: “Nobody puts their life at risk unless they are absolutely desperate and feel they have no other options.
“Everyone deserves to live in safety and it should be unacceptable to us that people have no choice but to make dangerous crossings in their search for this.
“There are no simple answers, but we urge the Government to rethink its plans for making the UK’s asylum system harder to access.”
Dover MP Natalie Elphicke said “stopping these dangerous crossings is the humanitarian and right thing to do”.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds told the BBC: “It really now has to act as the most tragic of wake-up calls to redouble our efforts to make sure that people are not out on the water in these terrible makeshift boats risking their lives.
“It is unrealistic to think that the entirety of that coastline can be patrolled. We need to be looking at practical law enforcement action away from the coast as well.
“We need that wider joint law enforcement work with the French authorities to be disrupting further away from the coast. In addition to that we do need to look at safe and legal routes.”
Damian Collins, the Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe, said it was an “avoidable tragedy”, adding: “We must stop these crossings and crack down on the criminal gangs that profit from them. We have to show that the crossings are futile and will not lead to a permanent right to stay in the UK.”
Jean-Marc Puissesseau, president of the ports of Calais and Boulogne, said the UK and EU need to work together on the issue and accused people traffickers of murder.
“They are murderers, they are really murderers. And of course we are all so upset,” he said.
“You know we are used to the migrants and we know that it cannot continue. We knew that there would be a catastrophe and we had that today.”
A number of MPs shared their devastation on Twitter. Labour’s Zarah Sultana said she was “heartbroken”.
“Please let this be the moment we provide safe routes to welcome refugees to Britain, instead of endlessly whipping up hate and fear,” she said.
More than 30 people – including at least 5 children – have reportedly drowned in the Channel after their boat capsi… https://t.co/IO7Q0DnWOE