Another body found on beach as three children among Channel deaths

Politics

The 27 people who died yesterday while attempting to cross the Channel to the UK from France included 17 men, seven women and two teenage boys and a girl, French prosecutors have said.

It comes as a picture of the flimsy boat used by the group has been seen by Sky News.

Following the deadliest day of the current migrant crisis, French Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin attacked the UK’s migration approach, saying that Britain had handled the crisis badly.

He also said other countries such as Belgium and Germany could do more to help France tackle illegal migrants and human trafficking issues.

Pregnant woman among the dead amid fears smugglers will continue trafficking in the coming weeks – live updates

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Pregnant woman among the dead

French President Emmanuel Macron called for “stronger” European co-operation to deal with the crisis and said French security forces are mobilised “day and night” to try and prevent people from crossing the Channel, but added that by the time migrants are on the coastline it is “already too late”.

In an interview with French radio station RTL, Mr Darmanin said migrants are “often attracted” to the UK’s job market and described the sinking of a migrant boat as an “absolute tragedy” – blaming human trafficking gangs who promise people the “El Dorado of England” for large sums of money.

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He did not have further information about the circumstances of the boat’s capsizing, or the victims’ nationalities, but said the two survivors were Somali and Iraqi and had been treated for severe hypothermia.

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Migrants promised ‘El Dorado’ in England

Mr Darmanin also said a fifth suspected people trafficker was arrested overnight and the boat used to cross the Channel was purchased in Germany and had a German vehicle registration.

“Those responsible for the tragedy which took place yesterday in the Channel are the smugglers, who for a few thousand euros promise Eldorado in England. The smugglers are criminals, this tragedy reminds us, painfully,” he said.

“It’s an international problem… We tell our Belgian, German and British friends they should help us fight traffickers that work at an international level,” Mr Darmanin added.

Five women, including one who was pregnant, and a girl were among the victims after their boat capsized in the water on Wednesday, with fishermen reporting more than a dozen bodies motionless in the sea.

Two people were rescued and four suspected people-smugglers arrested shortly afterwards.

The boat which sank was very flimsy, with Mr Darmanin likening it to “a pool you blow up in your garden”.

An image of the boat given to Sky News was taken by a lifeboat captain.

Around 60 migrants – some of them in life jackets – were transferred on to buses at Calais’ main train station on Thursday morning.

“Have these deaths changed your mind about getting to Britain?” Sky’s Europe correspondent Adam Parsons asked one man as he passed. “No, no,” he replied.

Parsons said: “Even in the wake of that appalling tragedy yesterday there is still an appetite for people to try to get from here in mainland France, over to the shores of the UK… and when you ask them why, they tell you that if they go through the official lines they don’t have any confidence that they will ever get the opportunity to reach the UK. They think they have no choice but to use people smugglers.”

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French forces ‘are mobilised day and night’

Most of those attempting to cross the Channel on small boats have been helped by organised networks of people smugglers.

Sky News spoke to one in northern Iraq who said he has packed flimsy boats with dozens of people trying to reach Britain – aware that some of them won’t survive the journey.

Franck Dhersin, the vice president of transport for the northern Hauts-de-France region, told French TV station BFMTV that heads of human trafficking networks who live comfortable lives in the UK must be arrested.

“In France what do we do? We arrest the smugglers…To fight them, there’s only one way – we need to stop the organisations, you need to arrest the mafia chiefs,” he said.

“And the mafia chiefs live in London… They live in London peacefully, in beautiful villas, they earn hundreds of millions of euros every year, and they reinvest that money in the City. And so it’s very easy for the tax authorities to find them.”

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Migrant crossings – what does the data show?

An image of two-year-old Alan Kurdi, face down on the shoreline and alone, who died in the Mediterranean while fleeing war in Syria in 2015, shocked the world and raised awareness of the plight of desperate individuals and families fleeing conflict and poverty.

But in the six years since his death, the route to mainland Europe and the UK is as dangerous as it was then.

Asked if the latest tragedy could be a turning point, Steve Valdez-Symonds of Amnesty UK, told Sky News he had “little confidence” it would be.

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‘It’s going to get significantly worse’

He pointed to the deaths of 39 migrants, aged between 15 and 44, whose bodies were discovered in a lorry container in Essex in 2019 and said it is not the journey in itself that is the issue – but the needs of the people on it.

Policing illegal routes into the UK is not sufficient on its own to stop people smuggling, he said. “Smugglers will continue to find new routes.”

He added that this approach often “pushes people to do more and more dangerous things to find the safety they need”.

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French politician Bruno Bonnell said there are many reasons people are attracted to the UK.

“First the language, a lot of people have a basic understanding of English and they find it more comfortable finding a job there,” he told Sky News.

“Plus they have heard from sources that the conditions are better,” added the La Republique En Marche MP for Rhone.

Those who claim asylum in the UK are not normally allowed to work whilst their claim is being considered. They are instead provided with accommodation and support to meet their essential living needs.

The Home Office may grant permission to work to asylum seekers whose claim has been outstanding for more than 12 months through no fault of their own. Under this policy, those who are allowed to work are restricted to jobs on the shortage occupation list published by the department – which includes health services and the fields of science and engineering.

27 people died crossing the Channel on Wednesday
Image:
27 people died crossing the Channel on Wednesday

The Dover Strait is the world’s busiest shipping lane and more than 25,700 people have completed the dangerous journey to the UK this year.

That’s three times the total for 2020, according to data compiled by PA news agency.

The numbers have prompted some critics to blame Brexit while those in support of leaving the EU have questioned whether the UK has taken back its borders.

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Migrant boat traced to Rotterdam shipyard

In a statement to MPs, Home Secretary Priti Patel said what happened on Wednesday was a “dreadful shock” but “not a surprise”, adding there was “no quick fix” to what she described as a “complicated issue”.

“This is about addressing long-term pull factors, smashing the criminal gangs that treat human beings as cargo and tackling supply chains,” she said.

More than 20,000 migrants have been stopped this year, 17 organised criminal groups dismantled and around 400 arrests and 65 convictions secured.

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Priti Patel talks in the House of Commons after tragedy in the Channel.

“It does need a Herculean effort and it will be impossible without close co-operation between all international partners and agencies,” she said.

She said it was a “complete myth and fallacy” to suggest the UK should not look at all options, including stopping boats entering territorial waters.

“We are not working to end these crossings because we don’t care or are heartless,” she said, adding that the UK has a “clear, generous and a humane approach” to dealing with the issue.

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How does the UK handle immigration?

In August, she promised to make the route across the Channel “unviable”, but the number of people crossing in small boats has reached record highs.

The issue has become an increasingly tense subject for the UK and France, and each side has been blaming the other.

The government has accused the French of not stepping up patrols enough, despite giving them millions in extra funding to deal with the problem.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to Mr Macron last night and Downing Street said they had agreed to “keep all options on the table”.

Mr Johnson offered to host and to help with joint patrols, while Mr Macron has called for an emergency meeting of European ministers and an “immediate strengthening” of Frontex, the EU’s border agency.

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