At least 27 people have been confirmed dead and a number of others remain in hospital after a small, inflatable boat sank off the British coast on Wednesday, French authorities have confirmed.
After a number of individuals were seen by the crew of a French fishing boat on Wednesday afternoon, a joint rescue mission by British and French coastguard authorities was sent out but called off later in the evening.
The 27 people confirmed dead include 17 men, seven women and three children, according to Gerald Darmanin, the French Interior Minister. One of the women was reportedly pregnant at the time of her death, and it is believed that the majority were Kurdish people from Iran or Iraqi nationals.
The boat the individuals were travelling on was almost entirely deflated by the time rescue crews arrived, and five traffickers linked to the event have already been arrested. In spite of this tragedy, more people have arrived in the UK on similar boats throughout Wednesday and Thursday, with about 40 people reaching Dover according to the BBC.
Religious and political leaders, including Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer, have condemned the deaths, calling for more action to be taken to protect those seeking asylum and to allow more regulated crossings to take place. This would prevent the need for risks to be taken in such small, fragile boats and reduce the power of people-smuggling gangs across Europe. However, Home Secretary Priti Patel has told MPs today that there is “no quick fix” to the influx of asylum seekers crossing the Channel in this way, whilst also promising an increase in joint patrols of the water between British and French authorities.
Previously, the Home Secretary has approved plans for boats to be turned around in the Channel and sent back to France, despite refugee camps close to the border being dismantled by authorities. This has been condemned by both the international community and UK Border Force staff themselves, with one senior figure describing the proposal as “morally reprehensible”.