Channel crossing tragedy: Priti Patel offers joint patrols with France – as it happened

Last modified: 05: 22 PM GMT+0

Summary of key events

Thanks for following the live updates. The blog will be closing shortly, so below is a summary of the main news of the day after at least 27 people died trying to cross the English Channel.

  • It is up to France to stop refugees crossing the Channel in small boats, Priti Patel has said after 27 people, mostly Kurds from Iraq or Iran, drowned trying to reach the UK in an inflatable boat.Making a statement to MPs, the home secretary said that while there was no rapid solution to the issue of people seeking to make the crossing, she had reiterated a UK offer to send more police to France.
  • Patel is facing three legal challenges over her controversial plans to push back refugees on small boats in the Channel who are trying to reach the UK. Several charities including Care4Calais and Channel Rescue are involved in two linked challenges arguing that Patel’s plans are unlawful under human rights and maritime laws. Freedom from Torture is involved in a third challenge.
  • France said on Thursday it will beef up the surveillance of its northern shores, but migrants huddling in makeshift camps said neither that nor a tragic drowning the day before would stop them from trying to cross the Channel to Britain.
  • French president Emmanuel Macron also appealed to neighboring European countries to do more to stop illegal migration into France.
  • Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said authorities are “not doing enough” to diminish the “power” of people traffickers aiding migrants to embark on sea crossings to the UK.
  • Jeremy Corbyn has called on the government to concentrate on the causes of mass migration, rather than trying to stop people getting to the UK.
  • Priti Patel has said she will ask the BBC and other media to reflect on their use of language after widespread use of the term “migrant” to describe the people who drowned in the Channel on Wednesday.

Updated

Labour MP Olivia Blake has criticised the home secretary, Priti Patel, for her stance on refugees crossing the Channel.

At least 27 people have tragically died in the Channel but in her statement today & the #AntiRefugeeBill the Home Secretary doubled down on the approach that led to their deaths.

Turning back boats doesn’t save lives or protect people from traffickers; safe routes for asylum do.

— Olivia Blake MP (@_OliviaBlake) November 25, 2021

Earlier on Thursday, Patel said it is up to France to stop crossings in small boats. Patel told the Commons she had just spoken to her French counterpart, Gérald Darmanin, following the disaster in which 17 men, seven women and three adolescents – two boys and a girl – were killed.

“I’ve offered to work with France to put officers on the ground and do absolutely whatever is necessary to secure the area so that vulnerable people do not risk their lives by getting into unseaworthy boats,” she said.

France said on Thursday it will beef up the surveillance of its northern shores, but migrants huddling in makeshift camps said neither that nor a tragic drowning the day before would stop them from trying to cross the Channel to Britain.

Seventeen men, seven women and three teenagers died on Wednesday when their dinghy deflated in the Channel, one of many such risky journeys attempted in rickety, overloaded boats by people fleeing poverty and war in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond.

The deaths deepened animosity between Britain and France, already at odds over Brexit, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying France was at fault and French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin accusing Britain of “bad immigration management”.

With relations fraught over Brexit and immigration, much of the focus on Thursday was on who should bear responsibility, even if both sides vowed to seek joint solutions.

President Emmanuel Macron defended Paris’s actions but said France was merely a transit country for many migrants and more European cooperation was needed to tackle illegal immigration.

The day after 27 people died trying to reach Britain in an inflatable dinghy, charities said the Channel dividing Britain from France was sure to claim more migrants risking everything to flee war and poverty across the Middle East and Africa.

“Unless we see this as a catalyst for proper systemic change, this will keep happening again and it will get worse,” said Kay Marsh, who works for the migrant charity Samphire in Dover, Britain’s gateway to Europe. “The deterrents aren’t working.”

The UK will not be able to take back full control of its immigration and asylum policy unless the government scraps the Human Rights Act, Conservative MP Scott Benton said.

The MP for Blackpool South said the deadliest day of the crisis on record underlines “why we need to do everything possible to make these dangerous routes unviable”, including scrapping the Human Rights Act.

He said: “There is nothing compassionate or moral about allowing criminal gangs to exploit vulnerable people.

“The leader of the House has already mentioned the Borders Bill but I fear that we won’t be able to gain back full control of our immigration and asylum policy unless we scrap the Human Rights Act (HRA).”

Benton asked for a parliamentary debate “on alternatives to the HRA”.
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg acknowledged “concerns” about the Human Rights Act have been a “theme” during the session of Business Questions, where Benton’s comments were made.

He said: “We must be able to govern ourselves in this country in a way that secures safety and wellbeing for people trying to come here and people who are already here.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said authorities are “not doing enough” to diminish the “power” of people traffickers aiding migrants to embark on sea crossings to the UK.

He told the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast: “To be honest, I’m sick of the Home Secretary playing to the headlines on this with grand statements about what she’s going to do, turning boats back and all the rest of it, but actually not achieving anything in relation to this issue.

“We need to be working with the French in the camps, working upstream on law enforcement because in the camps, among the problems, is the pull, the power of the people smugglers is far greater than those of the authorities because we are not doing enough work to break that link.

“If the people smugglers say, ‘It is your turn, you’re on the boat this morning, here it is’, then desperate people who have got as far as the northern coast of France are more likely to do what the smugglers are telling them to do than the authorities giving them the support that they need.”

The National Crime Agency has released a statement on the events that unfolded on Wednesday, with their deputy director Andrea Wilson saying:

What happened in the English Channel yesterday was a tragedy, and our first thoughts have to be with the families and loved ones of those who died.

The exact circumstances of this incident remain under investigation, but we know a high percentage of these attempted crossings are facilitated by organised criminal networks, who do not care about the safety or security of those they transport. They think nothing of putting vulnerable people in incredibly dangerous situations, just so they can exploit them for profit.

A French judicial investigation into these deaths is now underway and we have offered our French counterparts the full support and resources of the NCA. Our international liaison officers are already working closely with French law enforcement partners.

Together we are determined to find those responsible for these deaths so that they can be held to account for their actions.

Updated

A new body was found on the northern French coast, newspaper La Voix du Nord reported on Thursday, saying that no link could be established to a drowning a day earlier, when 27 migrants died trying to cross the English channel in a rubber boat.

The French newspaper reported on its website that a corpse had been found on the beach of Sangatte, west of Calais. It said that the identity of the victim was not known and that the state of the body indicated that it had spent more than 24 hours in the water.

Updated

430 people "at risk of drowning the Mediterranean"

Hundreds of people are at risk of drowning in the Mediterranean, in a boat off the coast of north Africa that is currently disintegrating, according to Alarm Phone.

In a reminder that the Channel is not the only European sea where people are continuing to die as they try to make desperate crossings, a new post by Alarm Phone says there are about 430 on board the boat, including dozens of children.

Alarm Phone is a hotline for people on boats in distress. It does not coordinate or undertake rescues, but raises awareness of crises. The post said that activists had repeatedly informed authorities in Rome and Malta of the emergency. “MRCC Rome has informed us that they were not the ‘competent authority’ in this case, while RCC Malta simply hangs up the phone when we try to relay information on the case,” it says.

Read more here.

Jeremy Corbyn has called on the government to concentrate on the causes of mass migration, rather than trying to stop people getting to the UK.

During the Commons debate on yesterday’s tragedy in the Channel, the former leader of the Labour party, who currently sits as an independent MP, said: “Does the home secretary (Priti Patel) accept that the only way in which people traffickers and gangs can operate is because of the absolute desperation of people across Europe and indeed across the world?

“And instead of concentrating on more frontiers, more barbed wire, more surveillance, not just in this country but all across Europe, what we should be doing is looking at the causes of asylum in the first place: the environmental disasters, the wars, the abuse of human rights, the poverty?”

Priti Patel replied that the government is working to address these issues with the international community, adding: “Migrants are not just in the hands of people smugglers, they are travelling through safe countries where there are functioning asylum systems in these safe countries where they could claim asylum. That also is something that all international partners should be supporting.”

Updated

Amnesty International has called on the UK government to “take decisive action” to prevent more deaths in the Channel, as it warned that the dangerous journeys take place because the government will not provide a safe alternative for people to exercise their right to claim asylum.

In a statement responding to the quarterly immigration statistics, released earlier on Thursday, Amnesty said deaths of people crossing the Channel have risen because the government provides no safe and legal routes for people to enter the UK.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s Refugee and Migrant Rights director, said:

In the wake of the devastating tragedy at the Channel yesterday, the UK government must urgently take decisive action to prevent more loss of life.

The UK must make it a priority to share responsibility with other countries to receive people into its asylum system – they must do this by providing safe and legal routes and encourage others to do the same.

We must remember that dangerous journeys take place because the government provides no safe alternative for people to exercise their right to seek asylum here.

The Afghanistan Citizenship Resettlement Scheme is one example of the government’s fundamental failure to provide safe routes – a scheme announced in August that has still not opened – ministers cannot even guarantee it will open anytime soon.

The UK’s failure to play its part in providing protection to people who are fleeing conflict and persecution is even more distressing at a time when the Home Office is trying to push through its draconian nationality and borders bill. This new policy will further exacerbate the asylum system and continue to punish and exclude people seeking safety.

If the government is truly concerned with tackling these gangs and their abuse of people, they must set up safe asylum routes, so people no longer need to depend on smugglers.

We desperately need a new approach to asylum – including genuine Anglo-French efforts to devise safe asylum routes, a major overhaul of the painfully slow applications system, an end to the use of dangerous and unsuitable accommodation facilities like Napier Barracks, and a political approach based on real humanity.

Updated

Priti Patel has said she will ask the BBC and other media to reflect on their use of language after widespread use of the term “migrant” to describe the people who drowned in the Channel on Wednesday.

The home secretary made the undertaking after an intervention by the SNP MP Brendan O’Hara, who said: “Last night I tuned in to the BBC 10 o’clock news to get the latest on this terrible disaster and I was absolutely appalled when a presenter informed me that around 30 migrants had drowned.

“Migrants don’t drown. People drown. Men, women and children drown.

“So will the secretary of state join me in asking the BBC News editorial team and any other news outlet thinking of using that term to reflect on their use of such dehumanising language and afford these poor people the respect that they deserve.”

Patel said: “Even during the Afghan operations and Op Pitting I heard a lot of language that quite frankly seemed to be inappropriate around people who were fleeing.

“So yes, I will.”

Updated

Shocked by the tragic deaths of migrants crossing the Channel from France to the UK. Lack of safe pathways, restrictive immigration policies & exploitation push people into perilous journeys. Time for coordinated action for sustainable solutions with full respect for #HumanRights pic.twitter.com/7aZsryTBW5

— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) November 25, 2021

The EU commissioner in charge of migration is to speak to her French counterpart about the migration crisis in the Channel, writes Jennifer Rankin, the Guardian’s Brussels correspondent.

Ylva Johansson, a Swedish Social Democrat in charge of the EU’s migration policy, will meet Gérald Darmanin, the French interior minister, later on Thursday to discuss how the EU can help France deal with people crossing the English Channel in small boats

Johansson suggested there could be more EU funds for France via the EU border agency, Frontex.

What more can we do from the European Commission? We can support even more from Frontex. We can support financially and I will talk to the French interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, later this afternoon to discuss this directly with him.

Of course we need European cooperation and help and support to prevent these kind of tragedies from happening.

It’s a tragedy for each life that is being lost. That is why it is so important to prevent these extremely dangerous journeys.

The French President Emmanuel Macron has called for an emergency EU meeting since the tragedy where at least 27 people lost their lives, including three children and a pregnant woman.

EU home affairs ministers are due to meet on 9 December, a meeting the UK would have taken part in before Brexit.

Updated

Lewis Goodall, the policy editor of BBC Newsnight, has tweeted an updated breakdown of the 27 casualties of Wednesday’s tragedy.

French prosecutors confirm that the 27 who died making the crossing from France to Britain yesterday comprised 17 men, 7 women, two teenage boys and a girl.

— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) November 25, 2021

A survivor of the perilous journey from Syria to the UK has criticised the lack of refugees’ voices in the debate on migration.

Ahmad Al-Rashid, originally from the wartorn city of Aleppo, was granted refugee status after he arrived in the UK in the back of a lorry following a perilous 55-day journey that involved sea crossings and a stay in the Calais “jungle”.

According to his own tweets, he had been booked to speak on BBC Radio 4 this morning, but the booking was cancelled at the last minute.

“Just have been informed by the BBC that they won’t be speaking with me this morning as they ‘needed to change some of the items’,” he posted on the microblogging site.

“Not a single voice of people who lived through those journeys and know what it means to leave everything behind. The narrative on migration is so toxic and politicised beyond disgusting,” he added.

Updated

Patel 'makes offer of joint Channel patrols with France'

Priti Patel has told MPs she has once again made an offer to her French counterpart to begin joint patrols to prevent people attempting to cross the Channel by boat.

In a statement to the Commons this afternoon, the home secretary said she had earlier spoken with Gérald Darmanin, the French interior minister, in an effort to find solutions to the developing crisis.

“I’ve literally just spoken again with my French counterpart, Minister Darmanin, and I’ve once again reached out and made my offer very clear to France in terms of joint France and UK cooperation, joint patrols to prevent these dangerous journeys from taking place,” Patel told MPs.

“I’ve offered to work with France to put officers on the ground and do absolutely whatever is necessary to secure the area so that vulnerable people do not risk their lives by getting into unseaworthy boats.”

Patel said there was “no quick fix” to the migrant crisis, but added that she was glad Emmanuel Macron, the French president, had “indicated his determination to stop the vile people smuggling gangs” and to work closely with all partners across Europe.

“What happened yesterday was a dreadful shock, it was not a surprise but it is also a reminder of how vulnerable people are put at peril when in the hands of criminal gangs,” Patel said. “There is also no quick fix. This is about addressing long-term pull factors, smashing the criminal gangs that treat human beings as cargo and tackling supply chains.”

Updated

As we mourn those who have died in the most horrendous circumstances I hope the whole house can come together with this simple message that crossing the Channel in a small boat is not the way to reach this country, Patel concludes.

Updated

The government’s new plan for immigration, which will be put into law through the nationality and borders bill. will address “underlying and core factors” by bringing in a range of measures to handle migration, including life sentences for people smugglers, says Patel.

However, the authorities are not waiting until the bill passes. She says the national crime agency is taking action at every level and claims it has dismantled 17 organised crime groups.

“This is a complicated issue and there is no simple fix.”

Updated

The UK has given “generous and unflinching support” to France to deal with the crisis, Patel says.

Given the chance traffickers will always find people to exploit and manipulate. Some of them don’t even know they are coming to the UK, Patel says.

Priti Patel is beginning her statement to the Commons on the tragedy in the Channel yesterday.

Information is still being gathered about the situation in France, she says.

Emmanuel Macron calls for stronger European cooperation on migration

Emmanuel Macron has called for stronger European cooperation on irregular migration after 27 people died on Wednesday when their dinghy deflated in the English Channel.

“We need stronger European cooperation in this area. France is a transit country,” Macron said during a press conference in Zagreb.

“I will also say very clearly that our security forces are mobilised day and night,” the president added, according to the Reuters news agency.

Updated

At least seven inflatables believed to have been used for channel crossings being loaded up at the RNLI station in Dungeness pic.twitter.com/GfFmohS7EV

— Ben Quinn (@BenQuinn75) November 25, 2021

Scenes of people continuing to arrive on England’s coast in small boats on Thursday showed the need to crack down on people smuggling, Downing Street has said.

The PA Media news agency quoted the prime minister’s official spokesperson as saying: “It illustrates that we absolutely need to step up our work with our French counterparts to dismantle this horrific trade which preys on vulnerable people.

“It demonstrates that it is still ongoing despite the horrific tragedy we saw yesterday, and more needs to be done.

“That’s why the prime minister spoke to President Macron yesterday, it is why the home secretary is speaking to her counterpart today.”

Updated

Martin Chulov, the Guardian’s Middle East editor, last week asked Masrour Barzani, the prime minister of Iraq’s Kurdish area, about Kurdish migrants fleeing to Europe. This is what he said:

Unfortunately, it looks like that these people have been exploited by a number of people, let’s say ‘travel agents’, human traffickers, some political merchants, if I may say that, and of course some people from within Belarus as well. These people did not leave this area under any sort of pressure, and they were not legally pursued, or imposed with any restrictions on their travel, so most of these people travelled freely on their own will through airlines and official channels.

“After they went to Belarus, spending some time in hotels, they were directed to the border to cross into the European Union. Unfortunately, the situation with the cold weather and, from what we’ve seen from TV and video footage, it’s very concerning because some of them have children, and these children are innocent people who are unfortunately paying the price for what looks like to be a political game.

“Many want to go to Europe in search of a different opportunity; it’s not the flee of desperation. They’re going there [to seek different opportunities] and I hope that the truth is told and the world knows that these people went there like every other immigrant wants to travel and go in search of different opportunities in different parts of the world, but if they want to return, they can always return here.

“In fact, many of the people who have gone, have spent thousands of dollars to travel agents and some individuals. So, if they could come up with thousands of dollars to pay for their trip, I’m sure if they wanted to work together, they could have created their own jobs here. As we’ve seen in many parts of Kurdistan, I’ve seen entrepreneurs in Sulaimani, in Duhok, in Erbil, that have started their own small jobs and the government has also been supportive of them to do that.”

Updated

The tragedy in the channel this week took place against a backdrop in which the home secretary, Priti Patel, has used language aimed at appeasing the far right, according to antifascist campaigners, reports Ben Quinn.

Rosie Carter, director of policy at Hope Not Hate, said the deaths of dozens of people happened in a climate “that demonises migrants, with a government that attacks those who attempt to protect the lives of people seeking sanctuary”.

“It happened in a climate where the home secretary has nonchalantly spoken about defying international law, putting gunboats and wave machines in the channel, and consistently hardened her rhetoric to score political points and appease the far-right.

“Using immigration as a political football puts lives at risk. We cannot forget that the never ending ‘immigration debate’ that fills our newspapers and television screens is a debate about people’s right to live.”

A far-right activist who was this month banned from setting foot in Dover was meanwhile on trails overlooking the town broadcasting footage of his encounters with members of the press.

Updated

We will have a live feed of Priti Patel’s statement in the Commons on what the government is describing as the “small boats incident in the Channel”.

The feed will be embedded at the top of the blog before the start of the statement, expected from 12.45-1pm.

There has been criticism on Twitter at the government’s choice of words to describe the tragedy, in which 17 men, seven women – at least one of whom was pregnant – and three children died, according to the latest estimates.

29 people died and it's called a Small Boats incident?? How heartless are we as a people to write out the human element of this tragedy?? How about 'Statement on the Channel Tragedy' or 'Statement on the serious loss of life in the English Channel'... anything else

— Abu Bakr Hussain (@KintsugiMuslim) November 25, 2021

Updated

Here is a Twitter thread by Channel Rescue about their plans to take legal action against the home secretary over her “pushback” policy.

They are also promoting a gov.uk petition calling on the government to reform its policy on Channel crossings.

1/4 BREAKING: WE’RE TAKING PRITI PATEL TO COURT. Today, we launch our case against @pritipatel , Secretary of State @ukhomeoffice, to ensure that ‘pushback tactics’ are NEVER used against people seeking asylum in the UK. Support our @CrowdJusticeUK 👉https://t.co/vpDUZDmHDx pic.twitter.com/j1ocGwPi3b

— Channel Rescue (@ChannelRescue) November 24, 2021

2/4 In Sept 2021, we witnessed the UK Border Force training its staff to use jet skis to employ ‘pushback’ tactics at sea. @PritiPatel has referred to this new pushback policy on several occasions, but details have still not been announced by @GOVUK. 👀⬇️https://t.co/HUOl8rutG9

— Channel Rescue (@ChannelRescue) November 24, 2021

3/4 Our legal challenge is based on British & international maritime law, which stipulates that nobody at sea should endanger another vessel, & that anyone in danger at sea should be rescued. We need your help to hold Priti Patel to save lives at sea! ⬇️https://t.co/mmCvp7g0qk

— Channel Rescue (@ChannelRescue) November 24, 2021

4/4 This proposed 'pushback' policy is life-threatening, inhumane and unlawful. We've given @ukhomeoffice until 29 Nov to respond to our legal challenge. If we don’t receive a response, we'll issue judicial review proceedings. Pls stand with us!✍️⬇️https://t.co/Xz9Hf9AqkR

— Channel Rescue (@ChannelRescue) November 24, 2021

Priti Patel is facing three legal challenges over her controversial plans to push back refugees on small boats in the Channel who are trying to reach the UK, Diane Taylor reports.

Several charities including Care4Calais and Channel Rescue are involved in two linked challenges arguing that Patel’s plans are unlawful under human rights and maritime laws. Freedom from Torture is involved in a third challenge.

The Guardian has revealed that government lawyers have warned Patel she is likely to lose any legal challenge against her pushbacks policy.

Updated

The Guardian reporter Ben Quinn has been in Dover, where he witnessed the arrival of a group of people who had made the crossing over the Channel early this morning.

Heads in hand and with Red Cross blankets draped over their shoulders, men and women waited on a red double decker bus parked at UK Border Force facilities hours after being brought into Dover in the early hours of Thursday morning.

What are believed to be the possessions of more than 50 people, picked up after attempting perilous crossings of the Channel, could be seen being transferred into a van by contract staff.

People on board a double decker at Border Force processing, Dover Port (possessions in bag on right)
Dozens of people were brought in by a Border Force cutter at 4am and a bit later by lifeboat pic.twitter.com/wa3dvq5Yqt

— Ben Quinn (@BenQuinn75) November 25, 2021

A Border Force cutter picked up one group before 4am while a lifeboat brought in another group separately before 5am. They were waiting on the double decker bus at 11.30am.

Looking out in the direction of France from the facility, where initial processing takes place under a large white marquee after people are brought up from a gangway, sea conditions appeared calm although wind speeds are considerably stronger than yesterday.

Today, winds are 17-25mph compared with 4-6mph for much of the day yesterday, when the tragedy at sea claimed the lives of dozens of people.

A number of Border Forces vessels could be seen moored in the harbour meanwhile, as an aircraft that appeared to be a search-and-rescue plane flew over the town.

Updated

A French lifeboat worker has described the scene that met rescuers trying to save the lives of those lost in yesterday’s tragedy in the Channel.

Charles Devos described seeing “a flat, deflated inflatable boat with the little air that remained helping it float” surrounded by bodies of the drowned, according to the AFP news agency.

French officials said earlier three helicopters and three boats had searched the area, finding corpses and people unconscious in the water, after a fisher sounded the alarm.

Earlier, Sky News obtained a picture it said showed the remains of the dinghy.

NEW: We have obtained this photo of the remains of the flimsy dinghy that sank in the Channel. This is all that was left when rescuers arrived
@SkyNews
@SophGarrattpic.twitter.com/R0lze0VvZB

— Adam Parsons (@adamparsons) November 25, 2021

Updated

The prime minister of Iraq’s Kurdish region has said his authorities are attempting to establish the identities of any potential Kurdish victims of yesterday’s migrant boat tragedy.

Masrour Barzani said he was “deeply saddened” by the deaths, and that his thoughts were with the families of the victims.

I'm deeply saddened by the tragic loss of 27 innocent lives in the English Channel last night. Some of the victims appear to be Kurds. We are working to establish their identities. Our thoughts are with their families.

— Masrour Barzani (@masrour_barzani) November 25, 2021

This is a potent reminder of the dangers of illegal migration and the smugglers who send people to their deaths. We must act together to stop them -mb.

— Masrour Barzani (@masrour_barzani) November 25, 2021

Updated

Progress has been made in stopping people from crossing the Channel in small boats, a Cabinet minister has told the Commons, as he answered questions about yesterday’s tragedy.

Steve Barclay, the Cabinet Office minister overseeing the response to the current migration crisis in the Channel, said 20,000 crossings had been stopped in 2021 but the UK would continue to work with the French authorities to avert further tragedies.

Philip Hollobone, the Conservative MP for Kettering, had Barclay to persuade Whitehall officials to “come up with constructive solutions” rather than “coming up with reasons why something can’t be done”.

Barclay told the Commons: “Firstly, I and I’m sure all members across the House join the prime minister in saying how deeply saddened we all are by the terrible tragedy that we saw yesterday.

“In response to the challenge of small boats it is a whole-of-government endeavour and it is right therefore that we work across the whole of government to look at all aspects of that journey – both upstream, our processing, our legal framework – and approach that across government.

“He will be aware that progress has been made – 20,000 crossings have been stopped so far this year – but we will continue to work with the French in partnership to ensure that we can avert tragedies as we saw yesterday.”

Updated

An emergency protest is being called for outside the Home Office on Thursday evening, demanding an end to deaths in the Channel.

Ben Smoke, politics editor of Huck magazine, has posted details on his Twitter feed. Speakers from the campaign groups Sisters Uncut, Migrants Organise, Soas Detainee Support, Channel Rescue and Kurdish People’s Assembly are expected to address the rally.

the tragic deaths 31 people in the channel today are a direct result of this government's horrific fortress britain policies. we cannot go on like this. there can be no more deaths in the channel. join us tomorrow outside the home office on marsham st, westminster. 6.30pm. pic.twitter.com/s9waMKWKzh

— Ben Smoke (@bencsmoke) November 24, 2021

Smoke told the Guardian: “The tragic deaths in the Channel yesterday are the responsibility of our government and their hostile environment policies. We have seen time and time again that building our walls higher doesn’t stop people coming, it simply makes the fall more deadly.

“It’s time for Priti Patel to rethink her disastrous and deadly border policies and open up safe routes of passage for all. It’s the only way to stop the needless loss of human life in the channel, and we’ll be telling her so outside the Home Office tonight.”

A spokesperson for Sisters Uncut said: “We are devastated at the loss of more than 30 lives as they attempted to seek refuge in the UK. People are drowning on our shores because our governments deem them unworthy of life.

“For this to happen just 24 hours after Priti Patel opens her inhumane detention centre for migrant women is disturbing, a bold display of her disdain for our communities, a cruel and murderous punishment for those just trying to find a safer life.

“The torture that meets people who are fleeing violence and seeking safety in our country must come to an end.”

Updated

Asylum claims rise to 20-year peak, official figures show

Newly released Home Office figures have shown that asylum claims have risen to their highest level for nearly 20 years, and higher than at the peak of the European migration crisis in 2015-16.

A total of 37,562 applications were made in the year to September – more than in any 12-month period since the year to June 2004, when 39,746 applications were made. At the peak of the European migration crisis in 2015 and 2016, 36,546 applications were made.

The latest figure is up 18% on 31,966 applications made in the year to September 2020, although this will have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic amid restrictions on movement.

There were 35,737 applications for the same period in 2019.

A total of 67,547 asylum applications were awaiting a decision at the end of September – up 41% year on year and the highest since current records began in June 2010.

Updated

The Archbishop of Canterbury has described the deaths of 27 people in the Channel on Wednesday as “a devastating loss of human life”.

Justin Welby, who is the head of the Anglican church, called for reform “across frontiers” of the system for immigration and asylum.

He said: “This was a devastating loss of human life - each person a child of God. Praying for all those suffering agonising grief today. We need a better system based on safety, compassion, justice and cooperation across frontiers. This cannot go on.”

Updated

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The deaths of 27 people trying to cross the Channel on Wednesday should “act as a wake-up call to make the world a better place”, the chair of the Refugee Council has said.

In an article for the Guardian, Enver Solomon accused the UK government of unfairly labelling those who try to make the crossing as “economic migrants”. He goes on:

The reality is different. An analysis by the Refugee Council published last week shows that almost all arrivals in the 18 months to June this year were from 10 countries, such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Eritrea and Afghanistan where persecution is not uncommon. More than six out of 10 people from these nations seeking asylum in the UK are granted refugee status or protection. For the top five countries it is higher at seven out of 10.

French authorities give revised death toll as 27

French authorities are now estimating that 27 people lost their lives in yesterday’s Channel crossing tragedy, a slight downgrade on the figure of 31 that was originally announced on Wednesday.

Speaking on Thursday morning, Gérald Darmanin, France’s interior minister, gave the figure of 27. Two survivors, one Iraqi and one Somali, were being treated for hypothermia, Darmanin told RTL radio.

The French state-backed news agency Agence France-Presse reported that prosecutors in Lille were saying that 17 men, seven women and three minors were among those who lost their lives.

So far five people have been arrested in connection with the tragedy.

Updated

The Refugee Council has called on the UK government to urgently adopt “fairer, more compassionate and effective” solutions to allow people to reach the UK and claim asylum.

In a statement published on its website, the NGO said the government must “commit and deliver the expansion of existing safe routes” for migrants, including “an annual resettlement target of at least 10,000 refugees”.

This should be done via “a humanitarian visa system to allow people to apply for a visa to enter the UK for the purposes of claiming asylum”, so that no one needs to make the perilous journey across the Channel in a small boat.

“Behind every single person that needlessly lost their life last night will be a person who was looking for safety, for protection and who had hope of a new life that now will never be realised,” the Refugee Council statement says.

“No one should ever feel their only option for their future is to cross the world’s busiest shipping lane in a dinghy.

“Rather than tougher measures that seek to punish and push away, or inaccurate and false statements that seek to dehumanise and, at worse, demonise people who cross the channel, we call on the government to adopt a fairer, more compassionate and effective set of solutions.”

Founded in 1951, following the creation of the UN Refugee Convention, the Refugee Council is a leading charity working with refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK.

You can read the statement in full here.

Updated

Sky News has obtained a picture of the remains of the dinghy that capsized in the Channel on Wednesday.

NEW: We have obtained this photo of the remains of the flimsy dinghy that sank in the Channel. This is all that was left when rescuers arrived
@SkyNews
@SophGarrattpic.twitter.com/R0lze0VvZB

— Adam Parsons (@adamparsons) November 25, 2021

Priti Patel to speak with French counterpart

Before giving her statement in the Commons, Priti Patel will be speaking with her French counterpart on Thursday morning about ways to stop people trying to reach the UK from France in small boats.

Kevin Foster, the immigration minister, mentioned on BBC Breakfast that the conversation would be taking place. “The home secretary will be speaking to her French counterpart later this morning,” he said.

Updated

The home secretary, Priti Patel, will make a statement in the Commons today on the deaths of the more than 27 people drowned while trying to cross the Channel in an inflatable boat.

Also confirmed:
• Statement from Home Secretary @pritipatel: Small boats incident in the Channel

— UK House of Commons (@HouseofCommons) November 25, 2021

The government’s decision to say the statement will be about a “small boats incident” could be seen as an inappropriate choice of words.

Updated

The MP for Dover, Natalie Elphicke, has called for increased patrols on the beaches of France to stop people embarking on the dangerous trip across the channel to the UK.

Elphicke told BBC Breakfast: “Yesterday we saw footage of French police standing by while people got the boat ready, picked up the engine and took to the water on the French side. They did absolutely nothing. That’s unacceptable and that’s got to change.

“The British are standing by willing to put people to help, the EU I’m sure will come to the French’s aid as well, this is a humanitarian crisis on the shores of France, these people smugglers must not be allowed to continue to ply their trade and put people’s lives at risk in these wintry seas.”

But her counterpart in Calais, Pierre-Henri Dumont, said he did not think that more patrols around the French border was the solution.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m not sure that having more police officers or more materials on the French shore will help to stop these crossings because we have 200 or 300 kilometres of shore to monitor 24/7.

“It only takes five to 10 minutes to take a boat and put it at sea filled with migrants, so I’m not sure it is only a question of money and the number of men.”

Asked about the UK’s proposal to provide patrols of the French beaches, Dumont added: “No, that wouldn’t work. To monitor all the shore would take thousands of people.

“There is also a question of sovereignty - I’m not sure the British people would accept it the other way round, with the French army patrolling the British shore.”

Updated

The Guardian’s Paris correspondent, Angelique Chrysafis, has sent these front pages of French papers that are leading on the tragedy in the Channel.

La Voix du Nord, the local paper on the northern French coast, headlined on the tragedy “that everyone feared would happen”.

A la une de votre journal de ce jeudi 25 novembre pic.twitter.com/8ml024mjII

— La Voix du Nord (@lavoixdunord) November 24, 2021

Le Parisien: Tragedy off the coast of Calais

La une du journal du jeudi 25 novembre https://t.co/0b7FCe2C1c pic.twitter.com/Bsf5IlydqZ

— Le Parisien | la une (@leparisien_une) November 25, 2021

The secretary general of l’Auberge des Migrants, a French humanitarian organisation, has criticised French and British officials’ attempts to blame people smugglers for yesterday’s Channel tragedy.

Maya Konforti told the French TV channel BFMTV the British government and French interior minister were blaming smugglers, but “the existence of smugglers is in response to a need; a need because there’s no legal way to go and seek asylum in Britain”.

She said the NGO was working to identify the bodies, contact the families, organise the funerals and repatriate the bodies. “When it’s one or two people it’s manageable, but with 31 people, we don’t know how we’re going to do it,” she said. “It will be very, very complicated and it will also be very, very expensive.”

She added: “We were sure this would happen one day, but up until now ... when there have been deaths, it was one or two at a time, but this is a catastrophe.”

Updated

Just hours after the search for people lost in the tragic capsizing of an inflatable boat in the Channel, more undocumented migrants have arrived in Dover after making the perilous journey across the narrow, freezing strait.

A group of people wearing life jackets and wrapped in blankets were seen huddled together on board an RNLI lifeboat before disembarking in Dover on Thursday morning, according to the PA Media news agency.

A group of people are brought in to Dover, Kent, by the RNLI on Thursday morning.
A group of people are brought in to Dover, Kent, by the RNLI on Thursday morning. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

The fall-out from yesterday’s tragedy in the Channel is continuing today, with crisis meetings expected in Paris and London. We will be keeping you updated throughout the day with the latest news on the developing crisis.

Safe Passage, a charity that specialises in securing futures for unaccompanied minors, has called for Priti Patel to resign after the tragedy in the channel, writes Lisa O’Carroll.

The charity’s chief executive, Beth Gardiner-Smith, said the failure to provide safe routes for those fleeing Afghanistan and other countries of conflict was a factor in the rise in numbers risking their lives to reach British shores.

“More and more people are risking the freezing, frightening journey across the Channel in small, unstable boats since the government closed safe routes to the UK last year.

“Choosing to play politics with people’s lives, the government has failed to prevent people risking the crossing and this is the result. The government must act now to save lives by opening safe routes to the UK, and scrap their unworkable plans in the Nationality and Borders Bill which will only make the situation worse,” she said.

Updated

Our live coverage of the Channel crossing tragedy will pause for a short while.

If you’ve been following along, thanks for joining us and you can catch up with any new developments by following our story here.

UK and France trade accusations

British and French leaders have traded accusations after at least 27 people died trying to cross the Channel on Wednesday.

In a phone call with Boris Johnson on Wednesday night, French president Emmanuel Macron stressed “the shared responsibility” of France and the UK, and told Johnson he expected full cooperation and that the situation would not be used “for political purposes”, the Élysée said.

The British prime minister renewed calls for France to agree to joint police patrols along the Channel coast, and said Wednesday’s incident highlighted how efforts by French authorities to patrol their beaches “haven’t been enough”.

Read the full story here.

Number of people making Channel crossing triples

The number of people who have made the perilous journey across the English Channel in small boats to the UK has tripled since 2020, figures reveal.

The total number of people who made the crossing this year is thought to be more than 25,600, according to Home Office statistics.

The Home Office also confirmed earlier this month that the number of refugees who had to be rescued reached 1,131 on a single day – the second highest daily figure since the current crisis began in 2019.

Despite the increasing numbers of small boat arrivals, the UK continues to see far fewer boat arrivals and asylum claims than many of its European counterparts.

The UK government has repeatedly promised to make such crossings “unviable” and pledged tens of millions of pounds to France to help tackle the issue.

Updated

Here’s a run-down of what the British papers have had to say following the worst documented migrant Channel disaster.

The front pages were dominated by the crisis with coverage veering from sombre reporting to accusations that the French authorities did not do enough to prevent the tragedy.

The UK House of Commons is set to hold a debate on “the numbers of migrants arriving in the United Kingdom illegally by boat” just before midday on Thursday, according to a recently released parliamentary schedule.

Earlier this month, Boris Johnson ordered a review into Channel small-boat crossings to find a way of cutting the number of people making such voyages from France.

The British prime minister is said to have grown exasperated that there are no policies in place to tackle the issue. The new borders and nationalities bill is currently going through parliament.

Priti Patel said she is considering strict new rules at detention centres for people who have crossed the Channel from France, which could could result in their asylum claims being rejected.

More than 24,500 people are thought to have arrived on the south coast this year, more than three times the approximately 8,500 arrivals documented in 2020.

Two survivors of the dinghy that capsized off the coast of northern France are believed to be in intensive care in Calais Hospital as the bodies of those who tragically drowned await to be transported from inside a warehouse in the port city.

Photos of the rescue operation taken late on Wednesday evening show French police sealing off an area at Calais harbour.

A man was also seen wheeling a gurney into a warehouse in the port of Calais, believed to be holding the bodies of 27 people recovered from the sea.

A man wheels a gurney into a warehouse in the Port of Calais, France, where it is believed the bodies of people are being transported after they were recovered from a boat which capsized off the French coast.
A man wheels a gurney into a warehouse in the Port of Calais, France, where it is believed the bodies of people are being transported after they were recovered from a boat which capsized off the French coast. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA
Vehicles from the Gendarmerie seen outside a warehouse in the Port of Calais, France.
Vehicles from the Gendarmerie seen outside a warehouse in the Port of Calais, France. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA
Police seal off the area around the rescue operation at Calais harbour.
Police seal off the area around the rescue operation at Calais harbour. Photograph: Kiran Ridley/Getty Images

The British Red Cross has described the drowning deaths of at least 27 people as “truly heartbreaking” and called on the UK government to “rethink its plans” regarding the nation’s asylum system.

“Our thoughts are with the loved ones of those tragically lost their lives today in the English Channel. It’s truly heart-breaking,” the organisation said.

Mike Adamson, the organisation’s chief executive, said “there are no simple answers” but urged the government to “rethink its plans for making the UK’s asylum system harder to access”.

“Nobody puts their life at risk unless they are absolutely desperate and feel they have no other options,” he said.

“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.”

Updated

Drowning tragedy 'entirely predictable'

As politicians in both France and the UK publicly lament the drowning deaths from earlier today, those familiar with the migrant situation say the tragedy was “predicted and predictable”.

Late Wednesday evening, British prime minister Boris Johnson said he was “shocked, appalled and deeply saddened” by the news dozens of desperate people drowned off the coast of northern France in an attempt to teach the UK in a dinghy.

French president Emmanuel Macron added that France “will not allow the Channel to become a cemetery”.

However, BBC Newsnight policy editor Lewis Goodall said he understood about 25 boats had attempted the crossing during the day on Wednesday.

“We had been told that many would attempt to cross the Channel overnight due to rapidly worsening weather,” he said, adding that the numbers involved and the quality of boats made the tragedy inevitable.

“The grim truth is today was predicted and predictable,” Goodall said. “I’ve been told today people were still trying to cross the Channel earlier this afternoon. The terrible weather expected in the coming days means people know this is their last chance to make it to the UK for a while.”

Updated

Migrants camp for the night near the harbour in Calais after dozens drowned when their boat capsized leaving the area just hours earlier.

The men and women - from Sudan, Eritrea and Kurdistan - live in threadbare camps scattered along the city and major ferry port in Northern France.

Now at the centre of a political storm, many remain undeterred in their plans to seek safety in the UK.

A report from Human Rights Watch, earlier this month, using data from local charities, estimates there are still about 2,000 migrants “in wooded areas, in and around disused warehouses, and under bridges in and around Calais”, including about 300 unaccompanied children. Several hundred more are camped in a forest near Dunkirk.

Ahmed, a migrant from Ghana, makes camp for the night near the harbour on 24 November, 2021, in Calais, France.
Ahmed, a migrant from Ghana, makes camp for the night near the harbour on 24 November, 2021, in Calais, France. Photograph: Kiran Ridley/Getty Images
Migrants sleep near the harbour on 24 November, 2021, in Calais, France.
Migrants sleep near the harbour on 24 November, 2021, in Calais, France. Photograph: Kiran Ridley/Getty Images

Updated

Johnson calls for joint patrols with France to stop migrant crossings

British prime minister Boris Johnson has called on France to agree to joint police patrols along the French Channel coast after the leaders appeared to trade blame late on Wednesday evening.

Downing Street said they had agreed to “keep all options on the table” in their efforts to break up the human trafficking gangs responsible for putting desperate people at risk in one of the world’s busiest sea lanes.

Immigration compliance minister Tom Pursglove confirmed that Johnson had renewed a previous offer to send UK police and Border Force officers to mount joint patrols with the French, according to the Associated Press.

Pursglove said the last incident showed the two countries needed to deepen their co-operation in dealing with the issue.

“The Prime Minister and President Macron have had exactly that discussion this evening. That is something that I am very keen to see happen,” he told BBC2’s Newsnight.

“It is the case that in the past we have offered to host and to help with joint patrols. I think that could be invaluable in helping to address this issue. I really do hope that the French will reconsider that offer.”

Macron warns Johnson to stop 'politicisation of migrant flows'

French president Emmanuel Macron warned Boris Johnson to stop the “politicisation of migrant flows for domestic gain”, according to a Reuters report.

The leaders spoke during an urgent phone call late Wednesday night.

Johnson said he was “shocked and appalled” by the tragedy and suggested the French government had not always approached the problem of the crossings “in a way we think the situation deserves”.

People trafficking gangs were “literally getting away with murder”, he said.

However, Macron stressed “the shared responsibility” of France and the UK and told Johnson he expects full cooperation from the British and that they do not use the tragic situation “for political purposes”.

France’s government is holding an emergency meeting Thursday morning to discuss next steps. Macron advocated an immediate funding boost for the European Union’s border agency, Frontex, and an emergency meeting of European government ministers, according to his office.

“France will not allow the Channel to become a cemetery,” Macron said, adding: “Europe... is in mourning tonight.”

He promised “everything will be done to find and condemn those responsible” and that “France will not let the Channel become a graveyard”.

Mirelle Clapot, a member of the French National Assembly, said that the only solution can be found through co-operation during an interview with BBC Two’s Newsnight.

“France has some limited means and resources and I think France does its best but it’s really facing a challenge.

“The smugglers are becoming more and more powerful and want to make more and more money and so they convince these poor people that it’s time to cross the channel even when it is very cold and very dark.”

She said that the state had tried to propose other places to live in France but the migrants “have one obsession - to cross the channel”.

The tragedy is the worst-ever incident involving migrants in the Channel, according to French maritime authorities.

Updated

Death toll revised down to 27 - report

It is being reported by the AFP news agency and other French media outlets that the death toll has been revised down to 27, from the 31 announced earlier this evening.

This was confirmed by the French interior minister Gérald Darmanin tonight.

It comes as the French president Emmanuel Macron warned Boris Johnson to stop the “politicisation of migrant flows for domestic gain”, according to a report from the Reuters news agency.

Updated

What we know so far

Here is a round-up of everything we know so far about the tragedy in the Channel tonight, which saw dozens of desperate people drown off the coast of northern France and they tried to reach the UK in a dinghy.

  • At least 31 people including five women and a young girl have died trying to cross the Channel to the UK in an inflatable dinghy, officials say, in what is the deadliest incident since the current crisis began.
  • Two survivors are in intensive care while police have arrested four people suspected of being linked to the drownings. The International Organisation for Migration said it was the biggest single loss of life in the Channel since it began collecting data in 2014.
  • It has been reported that the boat that capsized in the Channel tonight was hit by a large ship, according to La Voix Du Nord, a regional news site in northern France. There has been no official word on the detail of the tragedy but the news website claims the small boat, carrying some 34 people including 31 who drowned, was hit by a container ship.
  • Boris Johnson has spoken to the French President Emmanuel Macron this evening and have agreed to “step up efforts” to stop people smugglers.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday called for an urgent meeting of European Union ministers involved in immigration issues following the drowning of 31 people as they tried to reach Britain from French shores. “France will not allow the English Channel to turn into a graveyard,” Macron said in a statement.
  • But Boris Johnson suggested the French government had not always approached the problem of the crossings “in a way we think the situation deserves”.
  • The UK’s home secretary Priti Patel said the deaths of a reported 31 people after a boat capsized in the Channel were the “starkest possible reminder” of the dangers of the crossing.
  • Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said action was needed to disrupt the flow of people before they reached the Channel coast. “It really now has to act as the most tragic of wake-up calls to redouble our efforts to make sure that people are not out on the water in these terrible makeshift boats risking their lives,” he told the BBC.
  • People seeking to cross the Channel must be moved from Calais to the middle of France - even if by force, the city’s MP has said. Pierre-Henri Dumont told Sky News that people will continue to try to cross the English Channel as long as they are based in Calais.
  • Responding to the tragedy this evening where at least 31 died while trying to reach sanctuary in the UK, Beth Gardiner-Smith, CEO of Safe Passage International, has called on the Home Secretary Priti Patel to immediately resign.
  • Meanwhile, the campaign group Stand Up To Racism has organised an emergency solidarity protest outside Downing Street for Saturday afternoon. In the Facebook event for the demonstration, called ‘Don’t Let Them Drown - Refugees Welcome’, the group says it is government policy that is to blame for tonight’s tragedy.

Updated

It has been reported that the boat that capsized in the Channel tonight was hit by a large ship, according to La Voix Du Nord, a regional news site in northern France.

There has been no official word on the detail of the tragedy but the news website claims the small boat, carrying some 34 people including 31 who drowned, was hit by a container ship.

Updated

At least 31 people including five women and a young girl have died trying to cross the Channel to the UK in an inflatable dinghy, officials say, in what is the deadliest incident since the current crisis began.

Two survivors are in intensive care while police have arrested four people suspected of being linked to the drownings. The International Organisation for Migration said it was the biggest single loss of life in the Channel since it began collecting data in 2014.

Boris Johnson, who held a Cobra meeting on Wednesday to discuss the incident, said he was “appalled” by the tragedy. He then suggested the French government had not always approached the problem of the crossings “in a way we think the situation deserves”.

The French interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, told an impromptu news conference in Calais that the boat that sank had been “very frail”, and compared it to “a pool you blow up in your garden”.

He said 34 people were believed to have been on before it sank. Authorities found 31 bodies and the two survivors while one person was missing.

When Boris Johnson addressed restive backbenchers last week with his party gripped by a sleaze crisis, the topic of stopping small boats crossing the Channel was raised by more colleagues than any other, according to one MP present.

While overall asylum applications are down on a year ago, the sharp increase in the number of arrivals by this dangerous and very visible route was described by the home secretary last week as “unacceptable”.

Priti Patel has come under intense pressure from a No 10 heavily influenced by newspaper front pages to reduce the numbers of people making the crossing – leading to increasingly frenzied briefings about wave machines, offshore processing centres and even sending boats out to turn refugees back.

Allies of Johnson say he has been personally exercised about the issue for months, with aides charged with finding solutions.

It carries a particular resonance because of the constant refrain of the Brexiters that one benefit of leaving the EU would be to “take back control” – including of the UK’s borders.

In practice that had the narrow meaning of ending the free movement of people, which had led to an influx of millions of workers from Poland and other European states.

But Conservative strategists know well that beneath some voters’ desire to “take back control” will have been a suspicion of immigration more generally. And vivid front page pictures of crowded dinghies smack of anything but control.

Johnson and Macron agree to 'step up efforts' to prevent 'deadly crossings'

Boris Johnson has spoken to the French President Emmanuel Macron this evening and have agreed to “step up efforts” to stop people smugglers.

A Downing Street spokesperson said:

The Prime Minister spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron this evening following the distressing loss of life in the Channel. They agreed on the urgency of stepping up joint efforts to prevent these deadly crossings and to do everything possible to stop the gangs responsible for putting people’s lives at risk.

They underlined the importance of close working with neighbours in Belgium and the Netherlands as well as partners across the continent if we are to tackle the problem effectively before people reach the French coast.

Both leaders were clear that today’s tragic loss of life was a stark reminder that it is vital to keep all options on the table to stop these lethal crossings and break the business model of the criminal gangs behind them.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner is the latest to highlight the importance of referring to those who died in the Channel today with “dignity”.

She tweeted: “Language matters.

“The poor souls who died in the Channel deserve the dignity of being described as who they were.

“Human beings. Men, women, children. Mothers, fathers, daughters, sons. They loved and were loved. In other words they were just like us. An unconscionable tragedy.”

Language matters.

The poor souls who died in the Channel deserve the dignity of being described as who they were. Human beings. Men, women, children. Mothers, fathers, daughters, sons. They loved and were loved. In other words they were just like us. An unconscionable tragedy.

— Angela Rayner (@AngelaRayner) November 24, 2021

Macron calls for urgent EU meeting to discuss immigration

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday called for an urgent meeting of European Union ministers involved in immigration issues following the drowning of 31 people as they tried to reach Britain from French shores.

“France will not allow the English Channel to turn into a graveyard,” Macron said in a statement.

He also called for the immediate reinforcement of European Union border agency Frontex, Reuters reported.

Updated

People seeking to cross the Channel must be moved from Calais to the middle of France - even if by force, the city’s MP has said.

Pierre-Henri Dumont told Sky News that people will continue to try to cross the English Channel as long as they are based in Calais.

Currently, most boats set off from the northern French coast near Calais and Dunkirk, the Press Association reported.

More than 25,700 people made the journey in small boats this year, according to data compiled by PA.

Mr Dumont said that would-be refugees must be moved away from the Channel and into health centres in the middle of France.

“My message to the French authorities, which I said to them a few minutes ago, is that we need to understand that if the migrant is in Calais - or around the Channel - they will try to cross the Channel”, he said.

“We need to move them, even if by force, to health centres in the middle of France.”

The UK has offered to send police and border officials to France to help them prevent people from crossing the Channel.

However, Mr Dumont said that France cannot accept the UK’s offer due to “the question of sovereignty”.

“I heard Priti Patel’s comments yesterday claiming that she offered France British troops - that is not possible because of the question of sovereignty,” he said.

“But if the soldiers and patrols are in Calais with the migrants they will still find a way to cross, because you cannot monitor 200km of shore at the same time.”

Updated

In case you missed it earlier, here is the full transcript of Boris Johnson’s statement from Downing Street this evening:

I just want to say that I’m shocked and appalled and deeply saddened by the loss of life that we have seen in the Channel. I think that the details are still coming in, but more than 20 people have lost their lives, as you know. My thoughts and sympathies are, first of all, with the victims and their families. It’s an appalling thing that they have suffered.

But I also want to say that this disaster underscores how dangerous it is to cross the Channel in this way. And it also shows how vital it is that we now step up our efforts to break the business model of the gangsters who are sending people to sea in this way.

That’s why it’s so important that we accelerate, if we possibly can, all the measures contained in our Borders and Nationalities Bill, so that we distinguish between people who come here legally, and people who come here illegally, but we also use every power that we can, we leave no stone unturned, to demolish the business proposition of the human traffickers and the gangsters.

And, of course, we have to work with our French friends, with our European partners, and 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 who are literally getting away with murder.

What this shows is that the gangs who are sending people to sea in these dangerous craft will literally stop at nothing. But what, I’m afraid, it also shows is that the operation that’s being conducted by our friends on the beaches, supported as you know with £54 million from the UK to help patrol the beaches, all the technical support that we’ve been giving, they haven’t been enough.

Our offer is to increase our support, but also to work together with our partners on the beaches concerned, on the launching grounds for these boats.

And that’s something I hope that will be acceptable now, in view of what has happened, because there is no doubt at all that the gangs concerned, unless they are shown that their business model won’t work, that they can’t simply get people over the Channel from France to the UK, they will continue to deceive people, to put people’s lives at risk and, as I say, to get away with murder.

We’ve had difficulties persuading some of our partners, particularly the French, to do things in a way that we think the situation deserves, but I understand the difficulties that all countries, that all countries face, but what we want now is to do more together. And that’s the offer that we’re making.

As tragic as the scenes from the Channel tonight have been, devastatingly it is just one of many incidents where people have lost their lives while desperately seeking refuge and fleeing conflict or persecution.

On 3 October 2013, a few miles off the Italian island of Lampedusa, a fishing boat carrying 440 asylum seekers from Eritrea and Somalia, was about to sink. In an attempt to contact nearby boats, a man had set on fire a piece of blanket. He didn’t know that the boat was littered with gasoline due to a fuel leak after the engine had broken. To avoid the flames, many people threw themselves into the water. And many of them didn’t know how to swim. The vessel eventually capsized; over 368 people died. The pictures of hundreds of coffins, laying in rows, identified by numbers, in Lampedusa, went all around the world. It was the most dramatic shipwreck up to that time. Unfortunately, more will follow.

One year later, on 15 September 2014, more than 250 migrants died when a boat sank a half a mile off the Libyan coast. Hundreds of bodies remained trapped underwater.

On 18 April 2015, over 1,100 asylum seekers from Eritrea, Senegal, Mauritania, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Mali, the Gambia and Somalia, had been trying to reach Europe from north Africa onboard a fishing boat with a capacity of about 30 passengers. The vessel sank in the night after colliding with a Portuguese freighter that had approached to offer assistance. Only 28 people survived. Over one thousand people died. The vast majority of corpses were in the hull, wedged 400m deep on the seafloor. The vessel was recovered by Italian authorities in 2016 and the recovery itself became a public spectacle, as an entire section of the Italian navy was engaged in the operation and work dragged on for months at a cost of €9.5m. Only six of these corpses have been identified so far.

In May 2016, in the space of seven days, more than 700 people drowned in the Mediterranean. The casualties happened in three separate incidents after more than 13,000 people had set sail from Libya for Italy.

In July 2019, about 150 migrants seeking to reach Europe drowned in a shipwreck off the coast of Al Khoms in western Libya. About 140 migrants survived the shipwreck and were rescued by local fishermen and the Libyan Coast Guard.

Migrants are seen in a boat as they are rescued by Libyan Coast Guards in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Libya.
Migrants are seen in a boat as they are rescued by Libyan Coast Guards in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Libya. Photograph: Ayman Al-Sahili/Reuters

Last year, at least 140 people died off the coast of Senegal in the deadliest shipwreck recorded in 2020. The deaths, which followed other 4 shipwrecks in the central Mediterranean the week before, and another in the Channel, came amid a huge rise in the number of migrants and refugees using the dangerous Atlantic route from Africa to the Canary Islands.

The most tragic shipwreck in the central mediterranean this year occurred last April, when at least 130 asylum seekers died after their rubber boat capsized in stormy seas off the coast of Libya.

An estimated 1,300 people have died or gone missing while attempting to cross the central Mediterranean so far this year. Since 2014, 22,825 people have gone missing or died on this route.

Lord Dubs, who in 2016 tabled what became known as the Dubs amendment, has described the evening’s events as “appalling ... but not unforseen”.

He tweeted: “An appalling tragedy in the #Channel today, but not an unforseen one.

“The UK government needs to increase cooperation with our French neighbours.

“And refugee children stranded in the EU, with family in the UK, should be reunited with their loved ones here, safely and swiftly.”

An appalling tragedy in the #Channel today, but not an unforseen one.
The UK government needs to increase cooperation with our French neighbours. And refugee children stranded in the EU, with family in the UK, should be reunited with their loved ones here, safely and swiftly

— Alf Dubs (@AlfDubs) November 24, 2021

Jean-Marc Puissesseau, head of the ports of Calais and Boulogne, told The Associated Press that he spoke to one of the rescuers who brought some of the bodies to the Calais port.

“Traffickers are assassins,” he said. “We were waiting for something like this to happen.”

While deaths are occasionally reported on the crossing, such a large number of people losing their lives in one boat is rare.

People fleeing conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea and Sudan have been among those gathered along towns in northern France seeking to cross to Britain.

A fisherman, Nicolas Margolle, told Reuters he had seen two small dinghies earlier on Wednesday, one with people on board and another empty.

He said another fisherman had called rescue services after seeing an empty dinghy and 15 people floating motionless nearby, either unconscious or dead.

Before Wednesday’s disaster, 14 people had drowned this year trying to make it to Britain, a local maritime prefecture official said. In 2020, a total of seven people died and two disappeared, while in 2019 four died.

Meanwhile, the campaign group Stand Up To Racism has organised an emergency solidarity protest outside Downing Street for Saturday afternoon.

In the Facebook event for the demonstration, called ‘Don’t Let Them Drown - Refugees Welcome’, the group says it is government policy that is to blame for tonight’s tragedy, adding:

Our thoughts are with those who have lost their lives, and their loved ones.

The British government’s racist hostile environment, and its latest attack on refugees and migrants in the Nationality and Borders Bill, has and will continue to lead to the horror and tragedy of loss of life in the Channel.

We say don’t let them drown, end the racist hostile environment, scrap the borders bill, and we say loud and clear, refugees are welcome here!

The protest is scheduled for 2pm.

Emergency solidarity protest: Sat 27 Nov, 2pm, Downing St

Don't Let Them Drown - #RefugeesWelcome

The government's racist hostile environment, & latest attack in Nationality & Borders Bill, has & will continue to lead to horror & tragedy & loss of lifehttps://t.co/NqLEJo6DE6 pic.twitter.com/FUiHh7XGij

— Stand Up To Racism (@AntiRacismDay) November 24, 2021

Updated

Responding to the tragedy this evening where at least 31 died while trying to reach sanctuary in the UK, Beth Gardiner-Smith, CEO of Safe Passage International, has called on the Home Secretary Priti Patel to immediately resign.

She said she is “shocked and saddened” by the developing situation in the Channel today and said:

We are calling for the Home Secretary to resign in the wake of this tragedy, and the Prime Minister to take control now to prevent any further loss of life.

The tragic truth is that these deaths could – and should - have been prevented. No one should have to risk their life to reach safety. Every day, men, women and children are having to make extraordinary efforts to reach safety, sanctuary and loved ones here in the UK because there is no other way.

To prevent a repeat of this tragedy, refugees urgently need safe routes to reach their loved ones, find refuge and have the chance to rebuild their lives.

She went on the criticise the government for “playing politics” with people’s lives and said it must scrap the “unworkable” Nationality and Borders Bill - which has been trumpeted by the Home Secretary tonight.

Ms Gardiner-Smith added:

More and more people are risking the freezing, frightening journey across the Channel in small, unstable boats since the Government closed safe routes to the UK last year. Choosing to play politics with people’s lives, the Government has failed to prevent people risking the crossing and this is the result.

The Government must act now to save lives by opening safe routes to the UK, and scrap their unworkable plans in the Nationality and Borders Bill which will only make the situation worse.

For clarity, the death toll has been revised down to 31 so far, with two people rescued after the dinghy carrying what was thought to be 33 people capsized.

There appears to have been an error by the translator in the television feed from that press conference in Calais. That previous post has been amended to reflect the revised figure.

Keep following here for more updates as and when they come.

Updated

French interior minister confirms 31 people dead

The French interior minister Gérald Darmanin is giving a press conference live from Calais at the moment.

Speaking to reporters, he confirmed 31 people have drowned today in the Channel between Calais and Dunkirk. Two people have been saved.

He said this number included five women and one little girl. One person is still unaccounted for and he is unable to say what nationalities are involved.

He said:

It is an appalling situation for France, for Europe and for humanity to see these people perish at sea because of people smugglers.

Like his British political counterparts, that seems to be entirely where the finger of blame for this tragedy is being pointed - the smugglers who organise these highly dangerous journeys.

He said that since the start of 2021, around 1,500 arrests have been made including four today in relation to this incident.

Three ships are involved in tonight’s rescue operation, as well as three helicopters, one of which is British, he added.

He paid tribute to the rescue services who, he said, have saved 7,800 lives since the beginning of the year.

Updated

Patel: Tragedy is 'starkest possible reminder of the dangers of Channel crossings'

The UK’s home secretary Priti Patel said the deaths of a reported 31 people after a boat capsized in the Channel were the “starkest possible reminder” of the dangers of the crossing.

She tweeted: “My thoughts are with the families of all of those who have tragically lost their lives in French waters today.

“It serves as the starkest possible reminder of the dangers of these Channel crossings organised by ruthless criminal gangs.

“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.”

My thoughts are with the families of all of those who have tragically lost their lives in French waters today.

It serves as the starkest possible reminder of the dangers of these Channel crossings organised by ruthless criminal gangs.

— Priti Patel (@pritipatel) November 24, 2021

Updated

La Voix du Nord , a French daily newspaper, is reporting the death toll has risen to 33.

DIRECT 🔴 Naufrage à #Calais : le bilan s’alourdit à 33 morts, Gérald Darmanin va s’exprimer https://t.co/TW6yAzusz6 pic.twitter.com/pQ7iexYLYK

— La Voix du Nord (@lavoixdunord) November 24, 2021

Boris Johnson suggested the French government had not always approached the problem of the crossings “in a way we think the situation deserves”.

Asked by broadcasters in Downing Street what was going to change after Wednesday’s tragedy, he said:

We’ve had difficulties persuading some of our partners, particularly the French, to do things in a way that we think the situation deserves.

I understand the difficulties that all countries face, but what we want now is to do more together – and that’s the offer we are making.

Asked whether he had confidence in the job home secretary Priti Patel is doing, Johnson replied: “Yes, of course.”

Updated

Boris Johnson admitted efforts so far to stem the flow of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats “haven’t been enough”.

He told broadcasters in Downing Street: “What this shows is that the gangs who are sending people to sea in these dangerous crafts will literally stop at nothing.

“But what I’m afraid it also shows is that the operation that is being conducted by our friends on the beaches, supported as you know with £54m from the UK to help patrol the beaches, the technical support we’ve been giving, they haven’t been enough.

“Our offer is to increase our support but also to work together with our partners on the beaches concerned, on the launching grounds for these boats.

“That’s something I hope will be acceptable now in view of what has happened.

“Because there is no doubt at all that the gangs concerned, unless they are shown that their business model won’t work, that they can’t simply get people over the Channel from France to the UK, they will continue to deceive people, to put people’s lives at risk and, as I say, to get away with murder.”

Updated

Damian Collins, the Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe, said it was an “avoidable tragedy”.

The deaths today of migrants in the Channel is an avoidable tragedy. We must stop these crossings & crack down on the criminal gangs that profit from them. We have to show that the crossings are futile & will not lead to a permanent right to stay in the UK https://t.co/AP8RmFHAS4

— Damian Collins (@DamianCollins) November 24, 2021

Migrant crossings will continue despite the dangers, the head of Calais port has warned.

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

“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.”

Updated

Speaking to reporters at Downing Street, Boris Johnson said:

I just want to say that I’m shocked and appalled and deeply saddened by the loss of life at sea in the Channel.

I think the details are still coming in but more than 20 people have lost their lives.

My thoughts and sympathies are first of all with the victims and their families. It’s an appalling thing that they have suffered.

But I also want to say that this disaster underscores how dangerous it is to cross the Channel in this way.

Boris Johnson 'shocked, appalled and deeply saddened' by Channel incident

Prime minister Boris Johnson said he was “shocked, appalled and deeply saddened” after at least 30 people died when their boat sank in the Channel.

Updated

Dover MP Natalie Elphicke said: “This is an absolute tragedy. It underlines why saving lives at sea starts by stopping the boats entering the water in the first place.

“As winter is approaching the seas will get rougher, the water colder, the risk of even more lives tragically being lost greater.

“That’s why stopping these dangerous crossings is the humanitarian and right thing to do.”

A number of people are also believed to have reached Britain in small boats on Wednesday, with people seen being brought ashore in Dover by immigration officials.

Updated

Reuters are also reporting the figure as 31 dead so far.

The death toll in the Calais migrant drownings has risen to 31 from 27, a local official told Reuters on Wednesday. Two people are also reported missing, Franck Dhersin, deputy head of regional transport and mayor of Teteghem, told Reuters.

The BBC’s Simon Jones has tweeted that 31 are now feared to have drowned.

31 dead in Channel, according to Calais mayor.

— Simon Jones (@SimonJonesNews) November 24, 2021

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said action was needed to disrupt the flow of people before they reached the Channel coast.

“It really now has to act as the most tragic of wake-up calls to redouble our efforts to make sure that people are not out on the water in these terrible makeshift boats risking their lives,” he told the BBC.

“It is unrealistic to think that the entirety of that coastline can be patrolled. We need to be looking at practical law enforcement action away from the coast as well.

“We need that wider joint law enforcement work with the French authorities to be disrupting further away from the coast. In addition to that we do need to look at safe and legal routes.”

Updated

London mayor Sadiq Khan called on the British government and French authorities to work together to provide safe routes. He tweeted:

This is heartbreaking news. My thoughts go out to all those affected by this tragic event. No one should have to risk their life in this way. Those seeking sanctuary need safe routes—the Government must work with the French authorities to provide them.https://t.co/dFExkPTmM4

— Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan (@MayorofLondon) November 24, 2021

Pierre Roques, coordinator of the Auberge des Migrants NGO in Calais, said the Channel risked becoming as deadly for refugees as the Mediterranean which has seen a much heavier toll over the last years of migrants crossing, AFP reports.

“People are dying in the Channel, which is becoming a cemetery. And as England is right opposite, people will continue to cross.”

According to the French authorities, 31,500 people attempted to leave for Britain since the start of the year and 7,800 people have been rescued at sea, figures which doubled since August.

Seven people have been confirmed dead or are still missing feared drowned after various incidents this year.

MP for Calais says 29 bodies have been found

The MP for Calais Pierre Henri Dumont told Sky News that he believes 29 bodies have been found.

Updated

British Red Cross chief executive Mike Adamson said: “Reports of more lives lost today in theChannel are truly heartbreaking and come far too soon after other recent deaths on this route.

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

He told PA: “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.

“There are no simple answers, but we urge the government to rethink its plans for making the UK’s asylum system harder to access.

“This should start with ambitious plans for new safe routes and a commitment to resettle 10,000 people a year.”

Updated

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “It’s heartbreaking 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.”

Updated

At least 30 dead, says Calais head of ports

Jean-Marc Puissesseau, head of the ports of Calais and Boulogne, told BBC News he understood there were 50 people on the boat: “What I heard is that there are 30 people dead until now five or six which have been found.”

Updated

Boris Johnson to hold Cobra meeting

Prime minister Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee in response to the deaths in the Channel, Downing Street said.

Updated

Reuters reports that Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart told BFM television the death toll now stood at 27, minutes after another mayor put the tally at 24.

The local coast guard said they could not yet confirm the number of deaths, adding that rescue services had found around 20 people in the water of whom only two were conscious.

They estimated that there had been about 30 people on the dinghy before it capsized.

Updated

Unconfirmed reports said that an inflatable dinghy had capsized near Calais. A rescue operation is still under way with both French and British authorities involved looking for survivors.

Updated

The French interior ministry said in a statement that French patrol vessels found bodies and people unconscious in the water after a fisher sounded the alarm about the accident, AFP reports. Police then said in a statement that “over 20” people had died.

Three helicopters and three boats have been deployed to take part in the search, local authorities said.

The interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, who is heading to the scene, wrote on Twitter that “many people” had died in the incident, adding that “the criminal nature of the smugglers who organise these crossings cannot be condemned enough”.

Forte émotion devant le drame des nombreux morts dû au chavirage d’un bateau de migrants dans la Manche.
On ne dira jamais assez le caractère criminel des passeurs qui organisent ces traversées. Je me rends sur place.

— Gérald DARMANIN (@GDarmanin) November 24, 2021

Updated

Care4Calais, a charity working in northern France, helping refugees, tweeted:

There are reports of a major incident off the coast of Dunkirk, with more than 20 refugees drowned after baot with 50 people aboard sank. Not clear if this is the same incident as one reported earlier in which five were drowned. Horrendous, tragic news.

— Care4Calais (@Care4Calais) November 24, 2021

More than 20 people dead after boat sinks in Channel

More than 20 people are understood to have died after their boat sank in the Channel, French media has reported.

BBC News reported that “at least 24 people” have died. The figure came from a local mayor speaking in France.

The French prime minister, Jean Castex, tweeted: “The shipwreck in the Channel is a tragedy, my thoughts are with the many missing and injured, victims of criminal smugglers who exploit their distress and misery.”

Le naufrage survenu dans la Manche est une tragédie.
Mes pensées vont aux nombreux disparus et blessés, victimes de passeurs criminels qui exploitent leur détresse et leur misère.
Je suis la situation en temps réel.@GDarmanin se rend sur place.

— Jean Castex (@JeanCASTEX) November 24, 2021

Contributors

Sarah Marsh (now); Damien Gayle , Samantha Lock, Tom Ambrose and Caroline Davies (earlier)

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