Migrants channel crossing - live: Boris Johnson ‘deeply saddened’ as child among 31 dead in boat sinking

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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.

Read More

‘Dozens’ of migrants dead after boat sinks in English Channel

Labour accuses Priti Patel of ‘dangerous’ failures over migrant Channel crossings

Key Points

  • The 31 dead include five women and a little girl, says French minister

  • Boris Johnson ‘shocked and appalled’ by migrant deaths

  • Four people arrested

  • Worst ever accident in the Channel

  • Tragedy could happen again, warns French maritime boss

  • UK government must ensure refugees can reach UK in ‘legal and orderly manner’, urges Lord Dubs

Will the migrant boat disaster force the government to change its approach to Channel crossings?

21:15 , Rory Sullivan

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:

Will migrant boat disaster force government to change approach to Channel crossings?

Macron calls for urgent meeting of EU immigration ministers

20:51 , Jane Dalton

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'

20:37 , Jane Dalton

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’

20:28 , Jane Dalton

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:

Opinion: We are seeing the tragic cost of political posturing over the Channel

Prosecutor investigates manslaughter and illegal migration

20:11 , Jane Dalton

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

19:55 , Jane Dalton

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

19:21 , Jane Dalton

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

19:18 , Jane Dalton

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

19:04 , Rory Sullivan

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:

Home Office admits ‘limited evidence’ that its plans will reduce Channel crossings

Patel responds to mass drowning

18:58 , Rory Sullivan

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.

Biggest single loss of life in Channel, IOM confirms

18:56 , Rory Sullivan

The deaths caused today by the sinking of a migrant dinghy constitute the biggest known single loss of life in the Channel, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has said.

The organisation stated collecting data in 2014.

Video: PM responds to migrant deaths

18:50 , Rory Sullivan

PM vows to support France in cracking down on people smuggling gangs

18:39 , Rory Sullivan

As mentioned earlier, the prime minister has said the UK will do more to help France tackle people smuggling gangs in light of today’s tragedy.

Here’s our political editor Andrew Woodcock with more details:

Boris Johnson offers extra help to France to crack down on people-smuggling gangs

Five migrants still missing at sea, says Calais MP

18:31 , Rory Sullivan

At least 29 migrants died when their boat sunk earlier and five people are still missing at sea, the French MP for Calais has said.

Pierre-Henri Dumont told Sky News: “The latest information I have is that there are 29 dead and five who are still missing.

“We are still looking for nationalities and how many men, women and children there are.”

Photo: Boat carrying bodies of migrants reaches Calais

18:29 , Rory Sullivan

A rescue boat carrying the bodies of migrants who drowned in the Channel reached Calais port on Wednesday evening.

The vessel is owned by the French volunteer sea rescue organisation Societe Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer (SNSM).

The boat reached Calais harbour on Wednesday evening. (AFP via Getty Images)
The boat reached Calais harbour on Wednesday evening. (AFP via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson pledges increased support to France

18:22 , Rory Sullivan

Boris Johnson has pledged to increase his government’s support to France over migrant crossings, following the deaths of dozens of asylum seekers in the Channel on Wednesday.

The prime minister said: “I say to our partners across the channel - now is the time for us all to step up, to work together to do everything we can to break these gangs.”

“Our offer is to increase our support (to France)… and that’s something I hope will be acceptable now in view of what has happened,” he added.

Earlier, he had expressed how “shocked and appalled” he was by the deaths.

Calais port boss: ‘I don’t know what to do’

18:16 , Rory Sullivan

The boss of Calais port has warned that a tragedy like today’s could well happen again.

Jean-Marc Puissesseau told BBC News about the dangers of the route. “Even if the sea is not looking so rough, in the middle (of the English Channel) there are always many waves. It is dangerous,” he said.

“That can happen again because they try everything to get to your country. That’s why I am very upset. I don’t know what to do,” he added.

Labour says tragedy ‘sobering’ for government

18:10 , Rory Sullivan

Labour has said today is a “sobering day” for the British government, France and the wider international community.

Responding to the deaths of dozens of migrants, Thomas-Symonds MP, the shadow home Secretary, said:“This is a sobering day for the UK government, France and the wider international community. Lives have been lost in the most terrible of circumstances.

“This tragedy reminds of the risks to life in the perilous English Channel crossing. Our thoughts are with those lost and their loved ones left behind.

“This is the most poignant of wake-up calls to the UK government which must act to take the matter seriously and prevent people continuing to risk their lives in these dangerous waters.”

‘Worst' ever accident in the Channel, says local official

17:58 , Rory Sullivan

The drowning of dozens of migrants in the Channel on Wednesday is the worst ever accident on the route, a French maritime prefecture official has said.

Before today, a total of 14 people had died in 2021 trying to make the crossing to England, according to Reuters.

“This is no doubt the worst accident involving migrants trying to make it to Britain,” the unnamed official said.

Her comments come after Franck Dhersin, the mayor of Teteghem, warned that the death toll was likely to rise further, saying that many bodies were probably still at sea.

At least 30 migrants feared dead, says Calais port boss

17:47 , Rory Sullivan

At least 30 migrants have died after their dinghy sank in the Channel earlier, according to the president of the ports of Calais and Boulogne.

“What I know is that there were 50 people on this boat. What I have heard is that there are 30 people who have died, and about five or six who have been found,” Jean-Marc Puissesseau told the BBC.

Boris Johnson must commit to resettling at least 10,000 people per year, says Red Cross

17:41 , Rory Sullivan

Over at the British Red Cross...

Mike Adamson, the organisation’s chief executive, described the reports from France as “truly heartbreaking”, noting that today’s fatalities come after other recent deaths on the route.

“Our thoughts are with their loved ones, who may not even know yet what has happened,” he said.

“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.”

Mr Adamson urged the government to rethink its asylum plans, which will be make the UK “harder to access”. He added that it should instead offer “new safe routes and a commitment to resettle 10,000 people a year”.

End ‘cruel and ineffective’ government asylum policy, says Refugee Council

17:35 , Rory Sullivan

Let’s now turn to the reaction from refugee organisations.

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said: “It’s heart-breaking to hear that the lives of more ordinary people have been lost on a harrowing journey to Britain in search of safety.

“How many tragedies like this must we see before the government fundamentally changes its approach by committing to an ambitious expansion of safe routes for those men, women and children in desperate need of protection?

“Every day, people are forced to flee their home through no fault of their own. Now is the time to end the cruel and ineffective tactic of seeking to punish or push away those who try and find safety in our country.”

Labour calls on government to offer ‘safe, legal routes’ for migrants

17:32 , Rory Sullivan

The government must offer “safe, legal” routes for migrants wishing to claim asylum in the UK, a shadow cabinet minister has said.

Here’s the shadow justice secretary David Lammy’s reaction to the events unfolding off the French coast:

Liberal Democrats blame government over Channel deaths

17:29 , Rory Sullivan

The Liberal Democrats have blamed the government for the deaths of at least 24 migrants in the Channel earlier today.

Alistair Carmichael MP, the party’s home affairs spokesperson, said: “This is heartbreaking news. People are dying in the Channel because of the government’s total failure to get a grip on this crisis.

“Priti Patel must stop her pointless posturing and take action to stop these dangerous crossings, by providing safe and legal routes to sanctuary for refugees.”

PM chairs Cobra meeting to discuss Channel tragedy

17:24 , Andrew Woodcock

Boris Johnson is this afternoon chairing a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee to discuss the Channel tragedy.

A No10 spokesperson said: “The prime minister will chair a Cobr on the situation in the Channel this afternoon.”

Boris Johnson (REUTERS)
Boris Johnson (REUTERS)

UK government must ensure refugees can reach UK in ‘legal and orderly manner’, says Lord Dubs

17:13 , Rory Sullivan

Lord Dubs has called on the government to improve its relations with France to ensure that asylum seekers do not lose their lives.

The Labour peer, who reached England as a refugee shortly before the Second World War, said: “I think it is a terrible tragedy and that makes it worse is that many of us predicted that this would happen sooner or later.”

“I grieve for the families who lost someone in the Channel. We need urgently to improve our relationships with France on this issue, because the only way we can lessen the impact of the vile traffickers is by cooperating closely with the French authorities.”

“We also need to ensure those refugees - particularly children - who have family links or other connections with Britain are allowed to come here in a legal and orderly manner.”

Disaster a ‘tragedy’, says French prime minister

17:10 , Rory Sullivan

The French prime minister has said his thoughts are with those who lost their lives in the Channel earlier this afternoon.

“The shipwreck in the English Channel is a tragedy. My thoughts go out to the many who have died or been injured, victims of criminal smugglers who exploit their distress and poverty,” he said.

French interior minister confirms ‘numerous deaths'

17:07 , Rory Sullivan

The French interior minister Gerald Darmanin has confirmed the tragedy that took place in the Channel today.

“Strong emotions in light of the tragedy of the many dead due to the shipwreck of a boat of migrants in the English Channel,” he tweeted on Wednesday afternoon.

“We can never say enough of the criminal nature of smugglers who organise these crossing. I’m going to the scene.”

At least 24 migrants dead after boat capsizes in Channel

17:01 , Rory Sullivan

Dozens of migrants have died after an inflatable dinghy capsized off the coast of France on Wednesday, a local mayor has said.

Franck Dhersin, the mayor of Teteghem, told the television channel France 3 that 24 people had died and that 26 others had been rescued.

Dozens of migrants reported dead after boat sinks in Channel

16:59 , Rory Sullivan

Good afternoon and welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of the tragedy that occurred in the Channel today. Dozens of migrants are thought to have died after their dinghy capsized off the coast of France.

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