‘Shocked and appalled’ PM urges France to do more after migrant boat sinks with loss of 27 lives
He said he wanted to work with the French authorities to “demolish” the business model of human traffickers who were “literally getting away with murder”.
French interior minister Gerald Darmanin said the dead included five women and a girl.
He told an impromptu news conference in Calais that the boat which sank had been “very frail”, likening it to “a pool you blow up in your garden”.
The French regional maritime authority said 27 people had died. French officials had previously stated there were 31 deaths but the death toll was revised down, with no immediate explanation for the discrepancy.
An emergency search was sparked when a fishing boat sounded the alarm earlier on Wednesday after spotting several people in the sea off the coast of France.
A rescue operation was under way in the Channel by air and sea as French and British authorities searched for anyone still in the water.
Speaking to broadcasters in Downing Street, Mr Johnson – who chaired a meeting of the Government’s Cobra civil contingencies committee – said he was “shocked, appalled and deeply saddened” by what had happened.
“What this shows is that the gangs who are sending people to sea in these dangerous crafts will literally stop at nothing,” he said.
“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 £54 million 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.”
He suggested the French government had not always approached the problem in the way the British believed it should.
“We’ve had difficulties persuading some of our partners, particularly the French, to do things in a way that we think the situation deserves,” he said.
“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.”
Mr Darmanin, who hurried to the French coast as the scale of the incident became apparent, said four suspected people traffickers had been arrested in connection with the sinking.
He said two have already appeared in court and that the regional prosecutor had opened an investigation into aggravated manslaughter.
Mr Darmanin insisted the French authorities wanted to work with the UK to tackle the issue.
After speaking to Home Secretary Priti Patel earlier this week, he said he had sent a list of further assistance they required.
“We have to work together. Sadly our differences with legislation sometimes mean there is a slight lack of co-operation,” he said.
Ultimately it required a tough co-ordinated international response if they were to be effective, Mr Darmanin said.
“This can only be done if Belgium, Germany, Holland, the UK, work all together. Possibly we are not working together enough yet,” he said.
“We really must fight against these criminals just as we fight against terrorism.”
Calls to rethink asylum policy after ‘heart-breaking’ tragedy in English Channel
The deaths of 27 people after a migrant boat headed for the UK capsized in the English Channel have been described as “heart-breaking” and an “absolute tragedy”.
There was an outpouring of grief from campaigners and charities, who called for answers and urgent changes to current policies – while politicians said a solution needed to be found to tackle the migrant crisis.
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “This is a humanitarian disaster that should never have happened. It’s incomprehensible that so many lives have been lost by people on a desperate and harrowing journey to Britain who were just trying to find safety.
“Surely a tragedy of this magnitude is the wake up call our Government needs to change its approach and finally commit to an expansion of safe routes for those men, women and children in desperate need of protection. How many more lives must be lost before we finally end the cruel and dangerous tactic of seeking to punish or push away those who try and find safety in our country.”
Tom Davies, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights campaign manager, said the charity was “deeply saddened by the loss of these lives”, adding: “How many more times must we see people lose their life trying to reach safety in the UK because of the woeful lack of safe means to do so?
“We desperately need a new approach to asylum – including genuine Anglo-French efforts to devise safe asylum routes to avoid such tragedies happening again.”
Echoing their wordings, British Red Cross chief executive Mike Adamson said the news comes “far too soon after other recent deaths on this route.”
He added: “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.”
Bella Sankey, director of charity Detention Action, said she was “truly saddened” by the reports and accused Government failures of allowing the current crisis.
“A cross-party group of MPs have put forward a humanitarian visa proposal which would provide a safe route and save lives and we hope that parliamentarians will vote this into legislation by Christmas,” she added.
The president and chairman of the ports of Calais and Boulogne Jean-Marc Puissesseau told BBC News the UK and the European Union must work together to find a solution to migrant boat crossings, adding: “Even if the sea is not looking so rough, in the middle (of the English 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.”
He accused people smugglers of being “murderers”, adding: “The poor migrants who have spent months and months to come to here, and who die so close to their dream… I don’t know what to do really.”
Both he, French prime minister Jean Castex and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said it was an “utter tragedy”.
Mr Khan urged the Government to work with French authorities to provide safe routes for those seeking sanctuary.
Dover MP Natalie Elphicke said “stopping these dangerous crossings is the humanitarian and right thing to do”.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds told the BBC: “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.
“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.”
Damian Collins, the Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe, said it was an “avoidable tragedy”, adding: “We must stop these crossings and crack down on the criminal gangs that profit from them. We have to show that the crossings are futile and will not lead to a permanent right to stay in the UK.”
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