The deaths of six people after a migrant boat capsized in the English Channel has been described as an “appalling and preventable tragedy”.
Campaigners are urging the government to create more safe routes to the UK, with the Refugee Council warning “more people will die” unless urgent action is taken.
Meanwhile, MPs from across the political spectrum are calling for a clampdown on the criminal gangs profiting from these dangerous journeys.
Labour’s Bridget Philipson claimed that prosecutions of people smugglers have fallen under the Tories as she attacked their “total failure on the immigration and asylum system“.
Asked how a Labour government would tackle the issue, the shadow education secretary cited their plan to scrap the “unworkable” Rwanda deportation scheme and fund a cross-border police unit to “address the problems at the root”.
The government is also coming under pressure from its own back benchers, with senior Conservative MP sir Jake Berry echoing the sentiment to tackle people smuggling.
“We must put a stop to the vile people smugglers who trade in human misery and whose actions result in the loss of life,” the former party chairman wrote in the Sunday Express.
Some 59 people were rescued by British and French coastguards on Saturday after an overloaded vessel got into difficulty near Sangatte.
Five French ships, two British ships and a helicopter were involved in the vast operation, which had begun at about 4am UK time.
How the rescue unfolded
4.20am on Saturday 12 August: A merchant ship reported seeing a migrant boat in difficulty off the coast of Calais. Over the next forty minutes, five other commercial vessels confirmed this, and several people were already overboard.
A 25-seater life raft was deployed, alongside RIB Hurricane. Dover’s coastguard was called into assist, alongside the RNLI.
5.50am: More British ships joined the rescue operation.
6am: 32 people were rescued – one was immediately evacuated by helicopter to hospital and later pronounced dead.
Two British ships rescued a further 23 people.
A helicopter picked up five unconscious people, who were later declared dead.
A member of the lifeboat crew told Sky News: “When we arrived, we could only see large amounts of water.
“It was the helicopter that guided us to find the bodies. And then we had to recover the bodies. One after another.”
Yesterday, Home Secretary Suella Braverman had described the incident as a “tragic loss of life” – and confirmed she had chaired a meeting with Border Force officials.
The number of people crossing the Channel in small boats has risen in recent days.
On Thursday, 755 migrants made the perilous journey, the highest daily number so far this year.
A total of 100,000 crossings have been made since 2018 – 16,000 of those since the start of 2023.
After news of the fatalities emerged, a government spokesperson had said: “This incident is sadly another reminder of the extreme dangers of crossing the Channel in small boats and how vital it is that we break the people smugglers’ business model and stop the boats.”
‘Government has blood on its hands’
A union boss warned the UK government has “blood on its hands” over the Channel tragedy and described its approach as a “moral disgrace”.
Head of bargaining at the Public and Commercial Services union, Paul O’Connor said: “There is a readily available policy to prevent this tragic loss of life.
“Unfortunately, our calls on the government to adopt it have fallen on stony ground. It’s clear they have no desire to prevent these dangerous crossings.
“Instead, they’re pouring taxpayers’ money down the drain on policies which are unlawful, unworkable and doomed to failure.”
Ministers “want to scapegoat refugees” in a bid to distract from “catastrophic failings” on people’s living standards,” Mr O’Connor said.
“They don’t care that people die as a result. They have blood on their hands.”
Conservative MP for Dover, Natalie Elphicke, said the tragedy underlines the need for joint patrols in the Channel.
“These overcrowded and unseaworthy death traps 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.”