Warning of more Channel deaths unless urgent action taken after six Afghans killed

MPs and campaigners are calling for robust action to tackle criminal gangs and safe routes for migrants

Paramedics attend to migrants picked up at sea in Dover on August 12, 2023. Six Afghan males died when a migrant boat heading to Britain sank in the Channel. AFP
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More migrants will die crossing the English Channel in small boats unless urgent action is taken, the UK government has been warned.

After six Afghan refugees died, MPs from across the political spectrum joined with campaigners in urging ministers to act to tackle boat crossings.

Some 59 migrants were rescued after the alarm was raised early on Saturday, according to the French police command responsible for the Channel.

Boulogne city deputy public prosecutor Philippe Sabatier said all six fatalities were Afghan men, all believed to be in their 30s.

Aid workers fear the migrants who have been arriving at the French coast are determined to make the crossing to the UK during the relatively calm conditions of the summer months.

The Refugee Council has warned “more people will die” unless more safe routes to the UK are created for them.

Its chief executive Enver Solomon said the incident “underscores the need for meaningful action” to reduce dangerous crossings and urged the Government to focus on creating an “orderly and humane asylum system”.

Steve Smith, chief executive of refugee charity Care4Calais called the deaths “an appalling and preventable tragedy”.

He said those “who died were not just statistics, but individual people: someone's children, someone's siblings, and possibly someone's parents”.

“This terrible loss of life demonstrates yet again the need for a system of safe passage to the UK for refugees.

“This would enable them to apply for asylum while in France and then to travel safely to the UK without risking their lives in small boats. It would put the people smugglers out of business overnight.”

Experts spoke to The National as part of an investigation into the criminal gangs who operate the trade in small boats and said their flimsy construction made more deaths “inevitable”.

Labour shadow cabinet minister Bridget Phillipson called for tough action from the government to deal with criminals to prevent further deaths.

“The events in the Channel are absolutely tragic and heartbreaking and it does demonstrate that we need tougher action to tackle the criminal gangs that are exploiting people and putting them in harm’s way,” she said.

“But under this Government, we’ve seen convictions fall for people smugglers and we’ve seen them running rings around the Government.

“It’s completely wrong that we’ve seen a big reduction in the number of convictions and prosecutions of these people smugglers.”

Conservative backbench MP and ex-party chairman Sir Jake Berry said: “only radical changes can truly turn the tide”.

“We have a moral duty, both to our own citizens and those asylum seekers, to act,” he wrote in the Sunday Express.

Regis Holy, captain of a lifeboat that brought five of the survivors back to Calais, said migrants who had given everything to get this far, would keep risking everything to make the crossing.

“There will be other tragedies. It will never stop,” he said.

Home Office figures show that 755 people crossed the Channel in small boats on Thursday – the highest daily number so far this year – confirming that the total since 2018 has passed 100,000.

Some 343 people in six boats were detected crossing on Friday, taking the provisional total for the year so far to more than 16,000.

Updated: August 13, 2023, 10:42 AM