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Boris Johnson said he was “shocked” and “appalled” that 31 migrants drowned in the Channel after their inflatable boat sank in the worst disaster on record involving migrants in that stretch of water.
The prime minister urged France to step up efforts to stem the flow of people crossing to the UK in small vessels.
French police have arrested four suspected traffickers on suspicion of being linked to people-smuggling.
The country’s interior minister Gerald Darmanin said 34 people had been on board, 31 of whom had died, two were rescued and one was still missing.
“There are two survivors … but their life is in danger – they are suffering from severe hypothermia,” he said.
More migrants left France than usual to take advantage of calm sea conditions on Wednesday, according to fishermen, although the water was bitterly cold. A joint French-British search operation for survivors is still under way.
Although both governments blamed smugglers, a number of French politicians blamed Britain for the problem, saying it should change its immigration policies.
More than 25,700 people have made the dangerous sea journey from France to the UK so far this year, more than three times higher than the total last year.
Will the migrant boat disaster force the government to change its approach to Channel crossings?
After at least 31 people lost their lives attempting to cross the Channel today, campaign groups called on the UK government to end its “cruel and ineffective” approach to migration.
But will things change?
My colleague Lizzie Dearden has this analysis:
Priti Patel uses sinking to push controversial news laws, but Home Office assessment finds they could result in people using ‘riskier means of entering the UK’, Lizzie Dearden reports
Macron calls for urgent meeting of EU immigration ministers
French President Emmanuel Macron has called for an urgent meeting of European Union ministers involved in immigration issues.
“France will not allow the English Channel to turn into a graveyard,” Mr Macron said in a statement.
He also called for the immediate reinforcement of European Union border agency Frontex.
‘Channel must not be graveyard for children’
Daniela Reale, of Save the Children UK, said: “Today’s tragedy is a wake-up call. It underlines the urgency of the UK government expanding, not restricting, safe and legal routes for those seeking safety and protection here.
“Today’s loss of life could have been prevented. The safety of vulnerable children and families must be the priority. The English Channel must not become a graveyard for children.”
‘We are seeing the tragic cost of political posturing’
It is past time that we lived up to our responsibilities as a modern liberal democracy, and provided safe and legal routes for refugees, writes Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael:
No legal routes to asylum and punishment for those who come illegally – it is a legal and moral void in which our government cloaks itself
Prosecutor investigates manslaughter and illegal migration
The French regional prosecutor has opened an investigation into aggravated manslaughter, organised illegal migration and other charges after the sinking.
Lille prosecutor Carole Etienne, whose office is overseeing the investigation, said officials were working to identify the victims and determine their ages and nationalities. She said the investigation may involve many countries as more information about the passengers emerges. “It’s a day of great mourning for France, for Europe, for humanity to see these people die at sea,” interior minister Gerald Darmanin said. He called for coordination with the UK, saying “the response must also come from Great Britain”.
Global community must prevent people being forced into peril – Starmer
Keir Starmer described the drownings as a “devastating and heartbreaking tragedy”.
The Labour leader tweeted: “The UK Government, France and the wider international community have a duty to prevent people from being forced into such peril.”
He wrote: “For lives to be lost in such dangerous and desperate circumstances is a devastating and heartbreaking tragedy.”
Four people arrested, says Darminin
French police have arrested four people suspected of being linked to the drowning, the country’s interior minister Gerald Darminin says.
He called the sinking “the biggest (migrant) tragedy that we have seen”.
Hunt for more survivors will go on
A search party will continue to look for any more survivors, the French interior minister has said.
Gerald Darmanin told journalists: “What happened today to our knowledge is that 31 people were drowned between Calais and Dunkirk.
“There are two people who have been saved, and their days are numbered.
“Amongst the 31 dead, as far as we know five were women and one was a little girl.
“We don’t have any more information with regards to those people.
“We will carry on searching in the hours to come to see if there are any more people.”
Home Office admits new immigration plans ‘unlikely’ to reduce Channel crossings
To assess the validity of the claim Priti Patel makes below, I am re-upping this piece from September.
Two months ago, the Home Office admitted that evidence showing its new immigration plans will reduce Channel crossings was “limited”.
Its equality impact assessment for the Nationality and Borders Bill added that department’s plans carried “significant scope for indirect discrimination” and “potential for direct discrimination on the basis of race”.
May Bulman reports:
Equality impact assessment states asylum overhaul carries ‘significant scope for indirect discrimination’ and ‘potential for direct racial discrimination’ – but says this would be ‘justified’
Patel responds to mass drowning
Home secretary Priti Patel has said her thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives today.
She added that the accident highlights the dangers of crossing the Channel.
“It is why this government’s New Plan for Immigration will overhaul our broken asylum system and address many of the long-standing pull factors encouraging migrants to make the perilous journey from France to the United Kingdom,” she claimed.