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Channel tragedy: Boris Johnson calls for joint patrols with France to stop asylum seeker crossings


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Boris Johnson has called on France to agree to joint police patrols along the French Channel coast after a boat carrying asylum seekers capsized causing the loss of dozens of lives.

French officials had previously stated there were 31 deaths but the death toll was revised down to 27.

More than 25,000 have made the trip this year Picture: Susan Pilcher
More than 25,000 have made the trip this year Picture: Susan Pilcher

It is thought five women and a child are among those who drowned as they attempted to reach the UK. And despite yesterday's tragedy, it has been reported that two boats have crossed this morning, carrying about 40 people.

The Prime Minister spoke to President Emmanuel Macron yesterday evening in the wake of the worst incident of its kind in the Channel.

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 Mr Johnson had renewed a previous offer to send UK police and Border Force officers to mount joint patrols with the French.

The aim is to prevent boats from attempting the perilous crossing but the French have previously resisted amid concerns about the implications for their national sovereignty.

A man wheels a gurney into a warehouse in the Port of Calais, France. Picture: PA
A man wheels a gurney into a warehouse in the Port of Calais, France. Picture: PA

Mr Pursglove said, however, 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.”

Tonbridge and Malling MP Tom Tugendhat called for greater collaboration with countries across Europe.

He tweeted: "The human tragedy in the Channel is a criminal opportunity being exploited by those who care nothing for lives of desperate people.

MP Tom Tugendhat has called for greater collaboration between countries across Europe to help tackle the asylum problem. Picture: Parliament TV
MP Tom Tugendhat has called for greater collaboration between countries across Europe to help tackle the asylum problem. Picture: Parliament TV

"We need to work together with partners as far away as Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean to end this cruelty."

Yesterday afternoon, people were plucked from the icy water after the inflatable dinghy capsized off Calais, with as many as 50 reported to be on board at the time.

Of those several were unconscious and dozens were dead.

The bodies of asylum seekers were brought ashore and a search and rescue operation was carried out, with British and French vessels being assisted by three helicopters.

Two people are said to have been saved from the water and remain in intensive care.

Meanwhile, four suspected people smugglers thought to be linked to the tragedy were arrested in Calais.

Earlier, in an unrelated case, 18 arrests had been made across France in an international operation to smash trafficking rings. So far this year 1,500 have been arrested.

Fishermen raised the alarm at around 2pm after spotting two boats in trouble, one of which had capsized.

Read more: People smugglers branded murderers in wake of Channel tragedy

French maritime minister Annick Girardin said five people were still missing.

The French coastguard was called to assist a boat with engine difficulty at 5am yesterday, according to local media, but the vessel continued regardless. It is not clear if this was the dinghy that capsize.

Bodies were taken to Paul-Devot quayside where around 20 emergency vehicles were waiting.

Credit: PA Graphics
Credit: PA Graphics

Boris Johnson is to hold an emergency meeting of COBRA following the tragedy.

He said he was “shocked, appalled and deeply saddened" and that efforts to stop boats "clearly had not been enough".

He added that people smugglers were getting away with murder.

He urged France to step up efforts, saying: "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 is being conducted by our friends on the beaches, supported as you know with £54million from the UK to help patrol the beaches, the technical support we've been giving, they haven't been enough.

'The Channel right now is becoming the new Mediterranean Sea, it's like an open sky graveyard.'

"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."

He said he had full confidence in Home Secretary Priti Patel.

But mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart said: "This is the fault of Boris Johnson who is forcing our country to endure this set-up because he doesn't have the courage himself to assume responsibilities in his country."

Calais' MP Pierre-Henri Dumont told Sky News: "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.

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

Asylum seekers are brought to shore Picture: UKNIP
Asylum seekers are brought to shore Picture: UKNIP

"We all need, both sides of the Channel, to stop making migrants an internal argument with internal policies and try to figure out how to find a solution.

"The Channel right now is becoming the new Mediterranean Sea, it's like an open sky graveyard.

"We must find a way to end it."

The shipwreck was one of several crossings made today, with conditions in the Channel described as cool and calm.

French interior minister Gerald Darmanin added: "Strong emotion in front of the drama of the many deaths due to the capsizing of a migrant boat in the English Channel. We cannot say enough about the criminal nature of the smugglers who organize these crossings."

Natalie Elphicke MP has described the deaths as an "absolute tragedy"
Natalie Elphicke MP has described the deaths as an "absolute tragedy"

Dover MP Natalie Elphicke described the news as an "absolute tragedy" and said it demonstrated why stopping gangs sending boats on the perilous trip was crucial.

She said: "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.

She added: "Lives are being put at risk by the people smugglers.

"And people are safe in France and they need to be kept safe in France."

Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe Damian Collins said the deaths of at least 30 people in the Channel were an "avoidable tragedy".

French President Emmanuel Macron said: "It is Europe at its deepest level - humanism, respect for the dignity of each person, that is in mourning tonight following the death of 31 migrants off the coast of Calais."

He added that he would not allow the Channel to become a "cemetery".

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he was "heart broken".

The Channel is the busiest fishing lane in the world and despite repeat vows from the UK and French governments to stop people risking their lives to cross numbers have surged and now stand at more than 25,700 in 2021, triple 2020's total.

Asylum seekers have died in the past trying to reach the UK and today's death toll surpasses the tragic death of a family, including two children and a baby, last October.

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