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Ministers face more pressure to stop dangerous Channel crossings after at least six migrants die as boat sinks
13 August 2023, 06:56
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.
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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.
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.
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."
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.
"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."
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.
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.