Ministers face more pressure to stop dangerous Channel crossings after at least six migrants die as boat sinks

13 August 2023, 06:56

Ministers are under pressure to stop the small boat crossings
Ministers are under pressure to stop the small boat crossings. Picture: Getty/Alamy

By Kit Heren

The government is under renewed pressure to stem the tide of people making the dangerous crossing over the English Channel in small boats, after the death of at least six people on Saturday.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

The six who died when their boat sank off the French coast were Afghan men. Some 59 were rescued, but two more are missing and authorities continue to hunt for them.

The tragedy has put the government under more pressure to find a way to halt these dangerous attempts at crossing the Channel, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, which is also full of treacherous currents.

Criticism has come from Labour and its own benches.

Writing in the Sunday Express, Conservative backbencher and former party chairman Sir Jake Berry said: "We must put a stop to the vile people smugglers who trade in human misery and whose actions result in the loss of life."

Natalie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover, said the tragedy underlined the need for joint patrols in the Channel.

Migrants arriving in the UK on Saturday
Migrants arriving in the UK on Saturday. Picture: Getty

Writing on Saturday, she said: "Today's tragedy underlines why we must stop the small boats to keep people safe and prevent loss of life in the Channel.

"These overcrowded and unseaworthy deathtraps should obviously be stopped by the French authorities from leaving the French coast in the first place.

"The time has come for joint patrols on the French coast and a cross-Channel security zone before any more lives are lost."

Meanwhile shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said action to deter criminal gangs facilitating the journeys was "desperately" necessary.

Migrants arriving in the UK
Migrants arriving in the UK. Picture: Getty

Labour's shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock accused the government of having "no workable plan" to sort out the asylum system.

"It's time to end the small boats nightmare - we can't sit by as more lives are put at risk. The country deserves better than this mess."

Home Secretary Suella Braverman chaired a meeting with the Border Force after the tragedy.

In a statement, she said: "My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the tragic loss of life in the Channel today.

"I have spoken with our Border Force teams this morning who have been supporting the French authorities in response to this incident."

Crossing the Channel is very dangerous
Crossing the Channel is very dangerous. Picture: Getty

French sea minister Hervé Berville said: "While we mourn these victims ... it is the responsibility of human traffickers - of criminals - who send young people, women, adults, to their death on these maritime routes that are dangerous and lethal."

French authorities have begun a criminal investigation into the deaths.

Philippe Sabatier, the Boulogne prosecutor, said: "Six Afghan males died, and the vast majority of those involved were also from Afghanistan. They included minors."

A patrol boat told authorities that a migrant boat was sinking off the French town of Sangatte at around 4am on Saturday, France's Maritime Prefecture of the Channel and the North Sea said.

Local mayor Franck Dhersin said dozens of boats were trying to make the crossing at the same time.

Some of those who were rescued were children
Some of those who were rescued were children. Picture: PA
Migrants arriving in Dover this week
Migrants arriving in Dover this week. Picture: Alamy

"Several of the boats were facing serious difficulties," he told Reuters. "Near Sangatte they unfortunately found dead bodies."

A volunteer said that migrants were trying to bail water out of the sinking boat using their shoes.

"We saved 54 people, including one woman," said Anne Thorel. "There were too many of them on the boat."

Read more: Asylum seeker torture survivor says legionella-hit Bibby Stockholm reminds him of unsanitary ‘refugee camp’

Suella Braverman said her thoughts and prayers were with the people who died
Suella Braverman said her thoughts and prayers were with the people who died. Picture: Alamy

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution said a Dover-based volunteer lifeboat crew launched just before 4am to respond to the incident.

An investigation has also been opened by the Boulogne prosecutor's office.

Migrants crossing the English Channel
Migrants crossing the English Channel. Picture: Getty

More than 100,000 people have crossed the Channel in small boats since 2018 - the year records began.

The milestone was passed after 755 people were detected crossing on Thursday, the highest daily number so far this year.

It comes despite the government's promise to stop the small boat crossings, with its plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda on hold as it houses migrants in barges and ex-military sites.

The controversial Illegal Migration Act will ban people from claiming UK asylum if they arrive in unauthorised way, which ministers believe will stop the crossings.

But the Supreme Court is yet to decide on whether the Rwanda plan is lawful.

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

The pair speak about their relationship in the new doc.

Jennifer Lopez reveals reason she and husband Ben Affleck rekindled romance after years apart

Some of the renovation requests on his £7m home have been rejected.

Gordon Ramsay faces renovation setback on £7m home as council rejects chef's bid for new security gates

Salvatore Mancuso

Warlord Mancuso is extradited back to Colombia after serving sentence in US

Jam Master Jay

Godson and friend convicted in murder of Run-DMC rapper Jam Master Jay

Two men have been convicted over the murder of Jam Master Jay.

Two men found guilty of Run-DMC star Jam Master Jay's murder

Jair Bolsonaro

Bolsonaro under investigation for allegedly harassing a humpback whale

A lawyer who represented 'murdered' Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny has been arrested in Moscow, Russian news has reported

Navalny's lawyer 'arrested in Moscow' after helping Russian opposition leader's mother obtain body from authorities

Former Tory MP Scott Benton has been suspended from the Commons.

Former Tory MP suspended from Commons over role in lobbying sting as Rishi Sunak faces fresh by-election headache

PlayStation is closing its London studio and axing 900 jobs (file image)

PlayStation to axe 900 jobs and close London studio to 'future ready' itself

Zelensky and Mohammed bin Salman

Zelensky meets Saudi crown prince to discuss peace deal and return of POWs

Lady Gabriella Windsor's husband Thomas Kingston has died aged 45

Royal family mourns as Lady Gabriella Windsor's husband Thomas Kingston dies aged 45

Mr Scully apologised for his comments.

'I'm sorry I chose those words': Tory MP Paul Scully apologises after claiming there were 'no-go areas' in some cities

Michael Holt, 54, from the Wirral, was found dead in the boat 700 miles into the charity challenge off the coast of Cape Verde, west Africa

Fundraiser launched to return home British father found dead on boat four weeks into 3,000-mile Atlantic ocean row

A remote track near Pitilie

Murder probe launched after former groundsman shot dead while walking his dog on Scottish estate

David Shuttleworth and Matthew Melling escaped jail despite accidents at their trampoline park

Trampoline park bosses fined after 270 injuries in just two months including 11 broken backs

Henry Staunton (left) was fired as chair of the Post Office last month. He has since engaged in a public row with Business Secretary Kemi Bedenoch (right)

'I am the subject of a smear campaign': Sacked Post Office boss hits out at Kemi Badenoch following public row over exit