‘It was like the film Titanic’: Lifeboat volunteer relives Channel tragedy

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A lifeboat volunteer has relieved pulling six bodies from the sea after 27 migrants drowned in the Channel yesterday – as the dramatic Mayday call made by the French coastguard was revealed. 

Charles Devos, who was one of the first people to arrive at the tragic scene, said: ‘It was a bit like the film Titanic when you saw all these people plunged into the water, drowning, with no means of being able to be rescued. Unfortunately, we were only able to recover the dead people.’  

It comes after the first picture of the doomed dinghy, described by Mr Devos as ‘an inflatable, very light boat that was around 10m long’, that sunk off Calais yesterday afternoon in the worst migrant tragedy in Anglo-French history emerged today. 

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The ‘flimsy’ and ‘very frail’ grey inflatable boat was photographed by a lifeboat captain who arrived to find bodies floating in the water. 

Mr Devos, the regional manager of life boat association (SNSM) in Calais, told Sky News:  ‘I saw the blow-up boat had really deflated. Was it a valve that came loose or did it hit an object? You never know but I don’t think it was a collision. I think it happened due to overloading. Don’t forget, you think the sea is calm. The sea isn’t calm because it’s nearly always choppy.’   

He added: ‘It’s not the first time I’ve boarded this type of boat. It’s really light boats that are overwhelmed. The tragedy came about because the boat was overwhelmed. Boats that transport 20 people, we find them with around 50 people on them’.   

It comes after audio of the dramatic Mayday call made by the French coastguard emerged. In the call, the radio operator gives coordinates of the emergency, says approximately 15 people are in the water, and asks nearby vessels to attend.   

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‘Mayday relay, mayday relay, mayday relay. This is Gris-Nez emergency, Griz-Nez emergency, Gris-Nez emergency,’ the operator says. ‘Information number one: Mayday. 15 man overboard, approximately. 15 man overboard.

‘All ships in this area are requested to have a south lookout to proceed to this area to take contact and report any information to Gris-Nez emergency co-ordinating this operation.’ 

Two survivors – an Iraqi and a Somalian – have told police their poorly made dinghy was hit by a container ship, puncturing its thin rubber hull and sinking the vessel, killing dozens including several Kurds, the Kurdish government has confirmed.  

Five people have been arrested in France over the 27 deaths, including one man held overnight driving a German-registered vehicle packed with inflatable ribs, although there is ‘no provable link’ with the sinking, according to prosecutors, despite French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin insisting all were ‘directly linked’ to the drownings.

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And as Emmanuel Macron was urged to get a grip, French police again failed to stop a group of around asylum seekers crossing the Channel on two boats in choppy conditions this morning. They were brought shivering into a freezing Dover by the RNLI at dawn.  

Small groups of officers were seen patrolling beaches close to Calais this morning but again failed to prevent dozens setting off for the UK in dinghies amid claims in Britain that the French have been sitting on their hands as 17 men, seven women – one of whom was pregnant – and three children died yesterday. 

French police confirmed the body of a man was found washed up on a beach in northern France today, though it was not immediately clear if the person was involved in yesterday’s tragedy. 

Meanwhile, migrants in Calais told MailOnline today that they are more determined than ever to reach the UK despite 27 people drowning crossing the Channel yesterday – as people traffickers slashed their prices to fill their deathtrap dinghies to Britain.  

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Boris Johnson and other UK officials are travelling to France tonight for meetings with their counterparts in a bid to solve the crisis while Home Secretary Priti Patel will travel to Paris on Sunday after the Prime Minister insisted that British boots are needed on the ground in France to stop evil slave gangs ‘getting away with murder’. 

Tory MPs including former Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick today told Macron it is ‘within his gift’ to end the migrant Channel crossings crisis while Priti Patel told the House of Commons at lunchtime that she had repeated the offer to send British personnel to France to conduct joint patrols. Her comments came as MPs told her Britain ‘can’t wait for the French’ and must act. 

As relations between the UK and France become increasingly fraught, Macron’s minister in charge of the crisis, Gerald Darmanin, today blamed Britain for the crisis and claimed migrants are promised ‘Eldorado in England’ by people traffickers because of its suite of benefits and ‘attractive’ labour market.

Mr Macron is said to have ignored the renewed offer for help with patrols during his call with the PM last night with the French President, who insists he won’t let the Channel to ‘be turned into a cemetery’, again accused by critics of allowing a bitterness over Brexit for his failure to tackle migrant traffickers.

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Speaking on a trip to Croatia this morning, Macron hit back at critics claiming France is not doing enough. He said police have been ‘working day and night’ since the start of the crisis to stop boats – and have ‘never had more’ officers patrolling the coast. He said ‘our mobilisation is total as far as I’m concerned’.  

As the blame game between Britain and France continues, it also emerged today:

  • Britain will again offer to send police, border staff and even the Army to beaches in northern France but Macron is expected to resist for political and legal reasons;
  • Former communities secretary Robert Jenrick said it is ‘within the gift of the president of France to bring this to an end now’;
  • Boss of the port of Calais says Britain must stump up more cash to help with searches for migrants trying to cross;
  • The deadly boat tragedy triggered an outpouring of anger in France with the Mayor of Calais blasting Mr Macron’s government for failing to tackle the ‘mafia style’ smuggling gangs;
  • Calais’s MP said that migrants must be moved from Calais to the middle of France even if force was necessary, to try to stop the crossings; 
  • French police have arrested a fifth alleged ringleader of people trafficking gang charging £3,300 for a space on a death trap boat. But prosecutors believe there is no ‘provable link’ between them and the tragedy off Calais;
This is the first picture of the flimsy and dangerous dinghy that sank off Calais yesterday, killing 27 people including seven women - one of whom was pregnant - and three children

This is the first picture of the flimsy and dangerous dinghy that sank off Calais yesterday, killing 27 people including seven women – one of whom was pregnant – and three children

Police stop a bus load of migrants already wearing life jacket Calais after the Channel tragedy

Police stop a bus load of migrants already wearing life jacket Calais after the Channel tragedy

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A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, by the RNLI, following a small boat incident in the Channel after 27 people died yesterday

Migrants walk on to the jetty at Dover after arriving in Britain as relations between the UK and France become increasingly tense over the migrant crisis in the Channel

Migrants walk on to the jetty at Dover after arriving in Britain as relations between the UK and France become increasingly tense over the migrant crisis in the Channel

The Dover lifeboat brings in more migrants who have crossed the Channel at dawn despite the deaths of 27 people yesterday

The Dover lifeboat brings in more migrants who have crossed the Channel at dawn despite the deaths of 27 people yesterday

Lifeboat volunteer Charles Devos, who was one of the first people to arrive at the scene, described the grim moment he pulled six bodies from water in scene 'like Titanic'

Lifeboat volunteer Charles Devos, who was one of the first people to arrive at the scene, described the grim moment he pulled six bodies from water in scene ‘like Titanic’

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Police patrol a beach near Calais as the French authorities again failed to stop migrants travelling to the UK

Police patrol a beach near Calais as the French authorities again failed to stop migrants travelling to the UK 

A team of French police looked around the dunes of a beach this morning as they were accused of failing to tackle the issue

A team of French police looked around the dunes of a beach this morning as they were accused of failing to tackle the issue

Migrants at a new Camp in Grand-Synthe near Dunkirk, France this afternoon, a day after 27 migrants drowned trying to get to the UK

Migrants at a new Camp in Grand-Synthe near Dunkirk, France this afternoon, a day after 27 migrants drowned trying to get to the UK

Migrants at a new Camp in Grand-Synthe near Dunkirk. Small groups of officers were seen patrolling beaches close to Calais this morning but again failed to prevent dozens setting off for the UK in dinghies

Migrants at a new Camp in Grand-Synthe near Dunkirk. Small groups of officers were seen patrolling beaches close to Calais this morning but again failed to prevent dozens setting off for the UK in dinghies

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Migrants set up camp on a railway line in Grande-Synthe near Calais today after police smashed their previous camp

Migrants set up camp on a railway line in Grande-Synthe near Calais today after police smashed their previous camp

Migrants in Calais told MailOnline today that they are more determined than ever to reach the UK despite 27 people drowning crossing the Channel yesterday - as people traffickers slashed their prices to fill their deathtrap dinghies to Britain

Migrants in Calais told MailOnline today that they are more determined than ever to reach the UK despite 27 people drowning crossing the Channel yesterday – as people traffickers slashed their prices to fill their deathtrap dinghies to Britain

People claiming to be from Iran , Iraq , Syria and Afghanistan say that the chance of settling in the UK is worth facing the danger of dying getting to Dover

People claiming to be from Iran , Iraq , Syria and Afghanistan say that the chance of settling in the UK is worth facing the danger of dying getting to Dover

Police in Calais detain a number of migrants wearing lifejackets after removing them from a bus before they tried to cross to the UK

Police in Calais detain a number of migrants wearing lifejackets after removing them from a bus before they tried to cross to the UK

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Migrants wrapped in blankets on the docks at Dover this morning after getting to the UK from France by dinghy

Migrants wrapped in blankets on the docks at Dover this morning after getting to the UK from France by dinghy

The RNLI has been left to pick up boats when they enter UK waters with 6,000 migrants crossing in November alone

The RNLI has been left to pick up boats when they enter UK waters with 6,000 migrants crossing in November alone

Empty recovered dinghies used for previous crossings are seen at Dover harbour earlier today after 27 migrants died yesterday

Empty recovered dinghies used for previous crossings are seen at Dover harbour earlier today after 27 migrants died yesterday

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson

French President Emmanuel Macron

Boris Johnson (left) has told Emmanuel Macron (right today in Zagreb) that British boots are needed on the ground in France to stop evil slave gangs ‘getting away with murder’ after at least 27 migrants drowned in the deadliest-ever Channel crossing

UK received 37,562 asylum applications in the past year – highest number since 2004

Asylum claims made in the UK have risen to their highest level for nearly 20 years, according to new figures from the Home Office.

The backlog of cases waiting to be dealt with is also at a record high.

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 (39,746) and higher than the numbers seen at the peak of the European migration crisis in 2015 and 2016 (36,546).

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The latest figure is up 18% on the year to September 2020 (31,966), 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.

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France said on Thursday it was mobilising reservists and beefing up sea rescue operations with drones to ‘watch the coastline’. 

French interior minister Mr Darmanin said: ‘It is Britain’s attractiveness which is to blame, including its labour market. Everybody knows that there are up to 1.2 million clandestine migrants in the UK and English business leaders use that workforce to produce things that are consumed by the English’. 

He told French radio network RTL that the smugglers are ‘criminals, people who exploit the misery of others, of women and children – there were pregnant women, children who died yesterday on that boat… and for a few thousand euros they promise them ‘Eldorado in England’.  

More people making the perilous journey across the Channel have been brought ashore in the UK following the deadliest day of the current migrant crisis.

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A group wearing life jackets and wrapped in blankets were seen huddled together on board an RNLI lifeboat before disembarking in Dover on Thursday morning, just a day after a dinghy capsized off the coast of Calais, causing the loss of dozens of lives.

Calais MP Pierre-Henri Dumont has said Macron must reject Britain’s offer of boots on the ground in France, saying: ‘That wouldn’t work. It would require thousands of people. And there is also a question of sovereignty. I’m not sure the British people would accept the other way round if the French army was patrolling the British shore’.

Officials today demanded even more money from the UK taxpayer to stem the flow of thousands of migrants across the Channel each month as the blame game between Paris and London over the deaths of 27 people.  

As 6,000 crossed to Britain in November alone, the boss of the ports of Calais and Boulogne has insisted that Britain must start paying more on top of the £54million they give to France each year to stop people getting there by dinghy or hidden in lorries. 

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Jean-Marc Puissesseau said: ‘We are obliged to control each lorry to make sure there are no migrants inside. We do it for not a penny. It is gratis for your country, it costs the Port of Calais, 8 million (euros) a year to control and I want that to be discussed again with your government. That was signed when the UK was in the Europe and has no place’. 

Natacha Bouchart, the Mayor of Calais, blamed attractive benefits in Britain for the crisis. She said: ‘I say that enough is enough. The British government has imposed immigration control on our territory for the last 20 years. It has never had the courage to control this immigration back home. You have to react, react quickly to make it all stop.’   

Britain wants boots on the ground in France but Macron won’t be ‘forced’, says Britain’s Immigration Minister, who doesn’t rule out turning dinghies back

Immigration Minister Kevin Foster insists that Britain is ‘keen’ to put boots on the ground in France – but admits the cannot ‘force’ Macron to do it.

Asked on BBC Breakfast how the UK’s approach was likely to change after at least 27 migrants died when their small boat capsized off the French coast, Kevin Foster said: ‘The first thing, is working with France.

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‘We have offered resources, we are happy to support their operations on the beach.

‘We have already agreed £54 million, we’re happy to look at doing more.

‘We’re also prepared to offer resources beyond (that) – like yesterday, we deployed a helicopter at their request to help with the search and rescue operation, so we’re not just offering cash. It is in no-one’s interest for this to continue.’

Mr Foster added: ‘We’re prepared to offer support on the ground, we’re prepared to offer resources, we’re prepared to offer, literally, people to go there and assist the French authorities.’

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Ahead of talks with Home Secretary Priti Patel, French interior minister Mr Darmanin said the loss of 27 lives was an ‘absolute tragedy’ as he blamed human trafficking gangs who promised people the ‘El Dorado of England’ for a large fee.

He told French radio network RTL that since the start of the year, police and rescuers there have saved 7,800 people in French waters in the Channel.

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The minister did not have further information about the circumstances of the boat’s capsizing, or the victims’ nationalities, but said the two survivors were Somali and Iraqi and had been treated for severe hypothermia.

The politician again pointed the finger of blame at human trafficking gangs, saying they are ‘criminals, people who exploit the misery of others, of women and children – there were pregnant women, children who died yesterday on that boat… and for a few thousand euros they promise them ‘Eldorado in England’. ‘And sadly, this has been repeated every day for the last 20 years’.

Four alleged people smugglers thought to be connected with the disaster were arrested by police north of Dunkirk, near the France-Belgian border, on Wednesday evening after tragedy struck shortly around 2pm.

Five women and a girl were believed to be among the casualties, with the disaster coming just hours of French police sat and watched boats leave their shore. 

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An ‘overloaded’ boat capsized in rough seas amid rain and cold weather and was found by fishermen, with three coastguard vessels and a helicopter rushed to the scene.  

The 27 deaths are the biggest single-day loss of life from migrant crossings in the Channel, with the previous grim record believed to be a family of five Kurdish-Iranians who drowned in October last year. Before the accident, a total of 14 people had drowned this year trying to make it to Britain. 

Mr Johnson chaired an emergency Cobra meeting on Wednesday afternoon as a search and rescue effort continued after the disaster amid anger from Tory MPs over soaring numbers of migrant crossings from France – with nearly 27,000 landing on the south coast this year.

Fifth smugglers arrested over deaths of 27 people after he was caught buying inflatable boats in Germany and driving them into France

A fifth suspect has been arrested in connection with the migrant boat that sank in the English Channel, killing at least 27 people, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said Thursday.

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Seventeen men, seven women and three minors died when the boat sank off the northern coast of France on Wednesday, according to public prosecutors in Lille. Four suspected people smugglers had already been arrested on Wednesday afternoon, Darmanin said.

The minister told the RTL broadcaster that the fifth suspect’s car was registered in Germany and that he had bought inflatable Zodiac boats in Germany.

Prosecutors in the northern city of Lille have opened an investigation against the five for homicide and bodily harm, membership in a criminal gang, and aiding in the illegal crossing of borders.

Darmanin said France had arrested 1,500 people smugglers since the start of the year.

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He said they ‘operate like mafia organisations’, using encryption to stop police tapping their phone conversations.

But there was confusion this afternoon after French prosecutors said the five suspects have ‘no provable link’ with the sinking.

The men – who have not been identified – were on Thursday morning in custody and facing manslaughter charges in connection with Wednesday’s disaster.

But on Thursday afternoon, Lille prosecutors confirmed that there was nothing to connect them with the fatal attempted passage to Britain.

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‘The enquiry into these alleged smugglers was originally led by Dunkirk prosecutors, but it was transferred to Lille,’ said an investigating source.

‘Early enquiries do not connect to the Calais tragedy,’ the source added, without expanding further.

This is despite French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin earlier revealing that at least one of the suspects had bought small inflatable boats from Germany and that all were ‘directly linked’ to the drownings.

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Meanwhile, the French President also called for an emergency meeting of European ministers, the BBC reported, as he vowed: ‘France will not let the Channel become a cemetery.’ Mr Macron later urged Mr Johnson in a phone call to stop Britain’s politicisation of migrant flows for domestic gain, the Elysee Palace said. 

Migrants in Calais told MailOnline today that they are more determined than ever to reach the UK despite 27 people drowning crossing the Channel yesterday – as people traffickers slashed their prices to fill their deathtrap dinghies to Britain.

People claiming to be from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan say that the chance of settling in the UK is worth facing the danger of dying getting to Dover with one declaring: ‘We don’t have a life. We want to live like you in the UK’.

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Those still willing to risk their lives in rough November seas revealed that their budget boats had also burst off the coast, but they were rescued before anyone drowned. Yesterday’s tragedy has seen smugglers slash 500 euros off the price of a one-way trip to Kent.

It came as the first picture of the doomed dinghy that deflated just off the coast of France emerged as French police again failed to stop 50 migrants crossing the Channel to Britain today. 17 men, seven women – one of whom was pregnant – and three children died yesterday.

Five people have been arrested in France over the 27 deaths, including one man held overnight driving a German-registered vehicle packed with inflatable ribs, although there is ‘no provable link’ with the sinking, according to prosecutors, despite French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin insisting all were ‘directly linked’ to the drownings. 

Thousands of migrants are in the Calais region hoping to get to the UK by Christmas, and speaking in France, a Kurdish computer programmer called Kochar, 25, told MailOnline: ‘It is not going to stop people from wanting to come to England. Everything in life is a risk, and it is worth a big risk to get to England’.

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Another Iraqi Kurd called Aram, 41, said: ‘There are some people who will be put off if they think they are going to die, but most people have no choice. We have to try to get to England.

‘I will get on a boat some time. It might be this week or it might be next. I got a call from my friend who told me about the people who had died. I did not know any of them.’

The migrants told how heartless people traffickers have slashed their prices for a place in a boat across by 500 euros since news of the tragedy filtered through to people living in makeshift camps around Grandy-Synthe near Dunkirk.

Those hoping for a new life in the UK told MailOnline that the fare for a place in an open dinghy had been reduced from 2,500 euros to 2,000 euros.

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Kochar said: ‘Last week it was costing 2,500 euros to get a place. But last night I heard it had been discounted by 500 euros. It looks like the price has come down because of these people who have died. The people smugglers are worried about losing business – so they want to give a better deal’.

‘It is within Macron’s gift to end this now’: Tory MPs demand the French President accept the UK’s offer of police to conduct joint beach patrols

Tory MPs today told Emmanuel Macron it is ‘within his gift’ to end the migrant Channel crossings crisis as they demanded he accept an offer from the UK to deploy British police officers on French beaches to stop the journeys.

Former Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick said the French President could ‘bring this to an end now’ as his Tory colleague Sir Iain Duncan Smith called on the Government to exert the ‘greatest pressure’ possible on Paris to do more.

Priti Patel told the House of Commons at lunchtime that she had repeated the offer to send British personnel to France to conduct joint patrols during talks with French Minister for the Interior Gerald Darmanin.

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The Home Secretary said ‘we absolutely encourage them and urge them to take these offers forward’.

Her comments came after Mr Macron insisted France is ‘totally mobilised’ to stop migrants crossing the Channel and warned Boris Johnson not to ‘exploit’ the latest devastating tragedy – as allies swiped at the UK’s ‘minimal’ contribution.

The French President rejected criticism that patrols are too lax, saying the authorities were on watch ‘day and night’ – as he demanded stronger international cooperation to help tackle the deadly trafficking issue. 

After warning Mr Johnson in a call last night not to use the situation for ‘political ends’, Mr Macron said Paris is going to request ‘extra help’ from the UK – arguing that migrants ‘don’t want to stay’ in France to claim asylum even though they are told they can.

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Mr Darmanin warned ahead of talks with Ms Patel that smugglers were promising desperate asylum seekers an ‘El Dorado’ of jobs and benefits in the UK.

The Home Secretary said in a Commons statement that she had offered to Mr Darmanin during talks to ‘put more 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’.

Ms Patel said the small boat journeys across the Channel are ‘lethally dangerous’ and while ‘what happened yesterday was a dreadful shock, it was not a surprise’.

Warning that there is no ‘quick fix’ to the situation, the Home Secretary said the UK is already ‘undertaking a wide range of operational and diplomatic work’ to stop the crossings but she stressed ‘we cannot do it alone’.  

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Aram said: ‘I heard that the price had come down today. You hear messages from everyone. I am glad it has happened. It is still far too expensive.’

Ali, 23, is also from Iraq. He said he has been in France for more than a month, adding: ‘There’s people here from Turkey, Belarus.

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‘We don’t have a life. We want to live like you in the UK.

‘You only have one life. People are trying and they die or have a chance to get past (the Channel.)

Speaking about Wednesday’s deaths, he said: ‘They had no chance to pass, but we maybe do.’

A group of men were found sheltering across from a supermarket in Grande-Synthe.

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Shivan, 22, told the PA news agency he had gone to France from Iraq. He said he has no living family and added: ‘We are waiting for our transport. No one has told us when we will be collected.

‘We wait and people come and go. We don’t have anywhere, so just sleep here.’

Shivan said he wants to go to the UK because there is a ‘better life.’

He said: ‘We just want to live. We’re not scared to cross; it’s better to cross. To get to the UK it’s about 15,000 euro. Maybe some people can get there for 2,000 euros, it depends.’

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He said he found his way to France by ‘asking people’ in Turkey.

The beaches north of Wimereux near Calais which has been repeatedly used as a launching point for migrant boats in recent weeks, were quiet this morning with no boats being launched.

It is believed that people smugglers were put off mainly by strong northerly winds which would have been whipping up waves out to sea, although the sea appeared calm from the beach.

The beaches were patrolled throughout last night by teams of French police who searched the sand dunes with powerful torches.

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The officers were also seen driving up and down neighbouring sandy beaches in a VW pick up truck, equipped with floodlights.

Officers in the same truck were filmed standing an watching earlier yesterday as a large group of migrants carried their inflatable on to a beach and launched into the sea.

Two French Navy patrol boats called Abeille Languedoc and Aramis patrolled around two miles off shore as dawn broke.

A local resident who was walking on the beach said: ‘I heard from some officers that they wanted to stop boats today after all the people died.’

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MailOnline found the remains of one 40ft long boat abandoned halfway down a cliff after it apparently deflated while being carried towards the beach.

Lying inside it was an instruction manual written in English for a 2 stroke outboard engine, raising the possibility that engines for migrant boats might have been shipped from UK suppliers

The heavily waterlogged 34 page manual included full instructions and tips on operating T series engines made by a variety of manufacturers, as well as questions and answers for tackling faults.

The engine which would have been attached to a wooden block at the rear of the boat had been salvaged, possibly to be used on another trip.

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The wrecked boat with plywood floor panels was of a similar type to the black inflatable boats which MailOnline saw being launched from the same beaches near Wimereux last week.

Boat manufacturers in the UK say that that the huge inflatables have no commercial purpose other than for transporting migrants, and have speculated that they are being illicitly made to order in China for people smuggling gangs.

A large damaged inflatable boat Wimereux in Northern France today after another rhib laid on for migrants by traffickers popped

A large damaged inflatable boat Wimereux in Northern France today after another rhib laid on for migrants by traffickers popped

Outboard motors, life jackets and sleeping bags were also abandoned by migrants on the beach near the Slack dunes

Outboard motors, life jackets and sleeping bags were also abandoned by migrants on the beach near the Slack dunes

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French police look at a map of the coast at Wimereux, north of Boulogne in northern France, at a stretch of beach believed to be used by migrants looking to cross the English Channel

French police look at a map of the coast at Wimereux, north of Boulogne in northern France, at a stretch of beach believed to be used by migrants looking to cross the English Channel

Migrants who were found soaked after a failed attempt to cross the Channel walk out from a shelter and take a bus to a warm place, in the rue des huttes in Calais this morning

Migrants who were found soaked after a failed attempt to cross the Channel walk out from a shelter and take a bus to a warm place, in the rue des huttes in Calais this morning

French Police patrol the coastline of Wimereux searching for migrant crossings

French Police patrol the coastline of Wimereux searching for migrant crossings

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A group of migrants wait on a holding bus after being brought in to Dover, Kent, after crossing to the UK

A group of migrants wait on a holding bus after being brought in to Dover, Kent, after crossing to the UK

Downing Street said the two leaders later spoke and agreed on the need to urgently step up efforts to tackle the problem and to ‘keep all options on the table’.

Mr Johnson then made a renewed offer of hundreds of British ‘boots on the ground’ to his French counterpart, but a diplomatic source said Mr Macron gave no immediate reaction.

The group of 34 migrants had set off aboard an inflatable described by Mr Darmanin as ‘very frail – like a pool you blow up in your garden’. There were reports that it might have been hit by a large vessel, possibly a container ship.

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Mr Johnson said on Wednesday he was ‘shocked and appalled’ and that action to address the crisis must now follow.

‘What this shows is that the gangs who are sending people to sea in these dangerous crafts will literally stop at nothing,’ the Prime Minister said.

‘But what I’m afraid it also shows is that the operation that is being conducted by our friends on the beaches, supported … with £54million 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 launching grounds for these boats. That’s something I hope will be acceptable now in view of what has happened.

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‘I say to our partners 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.’

The nationalities of the victims are not known but one charity told the Times they were Kurdish. 

A Government source said the PM would re-table the offer to send British law enforcement officers to help patrol French territory. 

The UK is willing to deploy potentially hundreds of personnel to France, probably drawn from police and Border Force ranks. If an agreement can be struck they could be on the ground as soon as next month.

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A similar offer was previously rejected by Paris, with French ministers bridling at the prospect of British police operating in their country.

‘We are not seeing enough action by the French to stop boats leaving these beaches,’ the source said. ‘We have offered to send personnel to help. The French have said that is difficult for sovereignty reasons, which is understandable. But the PM will be asking President Macron to think again. It is now unfortunately a humanitarian issue. We simply cannot let people leave those beaches this winter.’ 

27 dead in Channel is worst disaster since Iraqi family of five including a baby drowned trying to cross the Channel 

Artin washed up 700 miles away in Karmoy, near Stavanger, all those months ago, using DNA

Artin washed up 700 miles away in Karmoy, near Stavanger, all those months ago, using DNA

Yesterday’s tragedy in the Channel – the worst in the history of migrant crossings – came almost exactly a year after an entire family of five was drowned including a toddler.

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15-month-old Artin and his entire family, his parents Rasoul and Shiva, both 35, sister Anita, nine, and brother Armin, six, perished crossing the English Channel when their overcrowded boat capsized on the morning of October 27 last year.

Artin, who was given a life jacket that was far too big for him, would be washed up 700 miles away in Karmoy, near Stavanger and identified using a DNA sample cross-checked with a relative.

The family had been sent to their deaths by people traffickers who took thousands of pounds and gave them little more than an inflatable kayak to cross the Channel. 

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Following last nights call between the two leaders, a diplomatic source said: ‘There was nothing concrete. At this stage it was mainly agreement on the urgency of stepping up joint efforts to stop the crossings, and working closely with other EU countries.’ 

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. 

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

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‘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.’

The former Director General of the Border Force Tony Smith said it was ‘tragic’ that Britain and France had failed to reach a workable agreement to end the crossings and prevent such a disaster. 

‘We can stop this at source if we work together,’ he said. ‘That’s perfectly feasible. The French don’t take that view. They are not saving lives. They are basically allowing unsafe boats to sail off into territorial waters which is their responsibility. For me it is squarely on the shoulders of the French.’ 

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French prosecutors have opened a manslaughter enquiry over the deadly crossing, thought to have been organised by a criminal gang who – if caught – face charges of ‘manslaughter’ and ‘assistance with illegal immigration in an organised gang’. Two of the four arrested suspects appeared in court late on Wednesday.   

Just hours before the accident, pictures taken on a beach near Wimereux, a few miles north of Boulogne-sur-Mer, showed a group of 40 migrants pushing dinghies out to sea watched by police who seemingly did nothing to stop them. The boats were later pictured arriving in the UK, meaning they are not the same as the one that capsized. 

MP for Calais Pierre-Henri Dumont branded the Channel ‘the new Mediterranean Sea’ and said it was ‘like an open sky graveyard.’ He said migrants should be moved from Calais to the middle of France – even if by force – because they will continue to try to cross the English Channel as long as they are on the coast.   

Dover fishing skipper Matt Cocker said he heard the mayday call from a French ship to the coastguard which reported at leat 15 bodies in the water. He said: ‘The scenes must have been desperate. Awful. Picking bodies out of the water for anyone is the end of things and you don’t want to be doing it.’

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Another fisherman, Paul, 59, said he was ‘sad’ but not ‘shocked’. ‘I saw lots of people here today, of all nationalities but I don’t know which were the ones that drowned.’

Captain of the Calais-based lifeboat Charles Devos said his crew recovered six bodies and warned ‘I always thought that one day they would collide with a container ship or a ferry. I always said this would end in a tragedy and unfortunately it has.’ 

Migrants in Calais last night said they were shocked but were ‘still planning to go the UK.’ Iranian Ali Ahmadin, 25, said: ‘We have been here a month waiting and we will carry on. We have come a long way and will not give up.’ 

Meanwhile his friend Mohammad Sadi, 39, pleaded for help. ‘It is freezing here and we are desperate’, he told the Sun. ‘We still want to travel and I need some shoes, please.’   

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40 migrants were pictured launching dinghies from the French coast watched by French police near Wimereux yesterday in one of the defining images of the crisis so far

40 migrants were pictured launching dinghies from the French coast watched by French police near Wimereux yesterday in one of the defining images of the crisis so far

A French sea rescue boat was seen carrying the bodies of migrants recovered off the coast of Calais yesterday evening as police said they had arrested four alleged people smugglers thought to be connected to the tragedy which saw at least 27 migrants, including five women and a girl, drown

A French sea rescue boat was seen carrying the bodies of migrants recovered off the coast of Calais yesterday evening as police said they had arrested four alleged people smugglers thought to be connected to the tragedy which saw at least 27 migrants, including five women and a girl, drown

Five women and a girl were believed to be among the casualties, with the disaster coming just hours of French police sat and watched boats leave their shore (pictured, a man wheels a stretcher into a warehouse where it is believed the bodies of the 27 migrants were taken after they were pulled from the water)

Five women and a girl were believed to be among the casualties, with the disaster coming just hours of French police sat and watched boats leave their shore (pictured, a man wheels a stretcher into a warehouse where it is believed the bodies of the 27 migrants were taken after they were pulled from the water)

An 'overloaded' boat capsized in rough seas amid rain and cold weather and was found by fishermen, with three coastguard vessels and a helicopter rushed to the scene. Two survivors (pictured, one survivor is brought to the port of Calais) were pulled from the sea by rescuers late on Wednesday

An ‘overloaded’ boat capsized in rough seas amid rain and cold weather and was found by fishermen, with three coastguard vessels and a helicopter rushed to the scene. Two survivors (pictured, one survivor is brought to the port of Calais) were pulled from the sea by rescuers late on Wednesday

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A funeral van leaves the port of Calais, northern France, after at least 27 migrants died in the sinking of their boat off the city's coast while attempting to cross the channel into England

A funeral van leaves the port of Calais, northern France, after at least 27 migrants died in the sinking of their boat off the city’s coast while attempting to cross the channel into England

Emergency services at the at a warehouse in Calais where the bodies of dozens of dead migrants are believed to have been taken, following the widely-condemned tragedy on Wednesday afternoon

Emergency services at the at a warehouse in Calais where the bodies of dozens of dead migrants are believed to have been taken, following the widely-condemned tragedy on Wednesday afternoon

Yards away was a French police car with at least two cops inside who appeared to do nothing, despite Emmanuel Macron's government yesterday vowing that forces would be in action

Yards away was a French police car with at least two cops inside who appeared to do nothing, despite Emmanuel Macron’s government yesterday vowing that forces would be in action

The new arrivals bring the total number to have made it to the UK this month to 6,050, exceeding the previous record of 3,879 in September. This year's total is now a record-breaking 25,772

The new arrivals bring the total number to have made it to the UK this month to 6,050, exceeding the previous record of 3,879 in September. This year’s total is now a record-breaking 25,772

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How many UK-bound migrants have died trying to cross the Channel this year? 

Before today’s accident, which left at least 27 dead, a total of seven people were confirmed to have died trying to make it across the Channel to Britain this year. 

A further seven migrants were missing, presumed drowned, after various incidents this year.

March 2021: One migrant missing and feared drowned after the boat he was in trying to reach the UK capsized.

August 2021: At least two migrants drowned off the coast of the UK while another died after being airlifted to hospital as part of a huge air and sea rescue operation after a boat carrying around 40 people began taking on water. 

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October 2021: Three Somali migrants feared to have drowned after falling overboard while trying to reach Britain. A further four people, including two children, died while crossing. 

November 2021: One migrant dies in day of record 853 crossings in early November. Yesterday, at least 27 migrants died off the coast of Calais in the deadliest ever incident in the Channel.

 

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Mr Johnson told broadcasters this evening: ‘This disaster underscores how dangerous it is to cross the channel in this way, and it also shows how vital it is that we step up our efforts to break the business model of the gangsters who are sending people to sea in this way.

‘That is why it is so important that we accelerate if we possibly can all the measures contained in our Borders and Nationalities Bill so we distinguish between people who come here legally and people who come here illegally, but that 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.

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‘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.’

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Around 20 rescue vehicles were seen at the Paul-Devot quay in Calais on Wednesday evening, where bodies were being brought ashore. 

The tragedy was discovered after fishermen saw two two small dinghies earlier on Wednesday, one with people on board and another empty. Fisherman Nicolas Margolle said another fisherman had called rescue services after seeing an empty dinghy and 15 people floating motionless nearby, either unconscious or dead.

More migrants left France’s northern shores than usual to take advantage of calm sea conditions on Wednesday, according to fishermen, although the water was bitterly cold. 

Mr Darmanin told reporters: ‘1,500 people have been arrested since the start of January, and four of them today. We suspect that they were directly linked to this particular crossing.’ 

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Home Secretary Priti Patel said the deaths 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.’ 

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said it was an ‘utter tragedy’ and urged the Government to work with French authorities to provide safe routes for those seeking sanctuary.

Dover MP Natalie Elphicke told MailOnline that the French must now act to stop more loss of life. ‘This is an absolute tragedy. It underlines why saving lives at sea starts by stopping the boats entering the water in the first place,’ the Tory MP said.

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How are people smuggling gangs exploiting English Channel crossings? 

The sinking of a migrant boat with the loss of 27 lives off the coast of France has once again raised concerns about the people-smuggling trade.

For years law enforcement on both sides of the English Channel have been playing a game of cat and mouse with criminal gangs as tactics change and evolve. 

National Crime Agency (NCA) deputy director Andrea Wilson said: ‘We look to target and disrupt organised crime groups involved in people smuggling at every step of the route.

‘Much of this criminality lies outside the UK, so we have built up our intelligence-sharing effort with law enforcement partners in France and beyond.

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‘This includes having NCA officers based in those countries, sharing intelligence and working side by side on joint investigations.

‘This approach is bringing operational results in the form of arrests and prosecutions, as we have seen with this particular case. 

One focus in the UK and abroad has been on disrupting the supply of dinghies and other vessels that could be used in Channel crossings.

The sale of dinghies in French towns has reportedly been banned, with kayaks seen withdrawn from sale at a Calais store.

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However one alleged smuggling gang targeted by police last year was thought to have been buying inflatable boats and engines from as far away as Germany and the Netherlands.

In the last couple of years, inflatable boats used in crossings have got bigger and bigger, now able to carry dozens of people – but not safely.

Home Secretary Priti Patel and the Government have repeatedly pledged to make the Channel route ‘unviable’, but the NCA previously said it views organised immigration crime as a ‘continuous threat’.

Earlier this month, an international operation saw 18 people arrested by French border police in the Calais, Le Havre and Paris regions of France.

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More than 100,000 euros in cash and bank accounts was also seized.

The organised crime group (OCG) was involved in the supply of boats which would each be able to carry between 40 and 60 people, the NCA said.

The network would then arrange departures from the shore of northern France, recruiting migrants in the various camps there.

Ms Wilson said much of the NCA’s work has to be done covertly, but added: ‘We know it is having an impact.

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‘We are continuing to look at ways to disrupt the supply of vessels to people-smuggling OCGs, and target those who knowingly do so.’

A joint UK-France intelligence cell that started in July 2020 has been involved in almost 300 arrests relating to small boat crossings, the Home Office said earlier this month.

‘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.’ 

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.

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‘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.’ 

French prime minister Jean Castex spoke of a ‘terrible tragedy,’ adding: ‘My thoughts are with the many missing and wounded, victims of criminal smugglers who exploit their distress and their misery.’    

Earlier officers apparently made no attempt to stop a group migrants, which included at least five children, despite the French government vowing a crackdown just yesterday. 

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The vow was made as the French attempted to explain how £9million of British money, part of a £54million deal to stop the migrants, has been spent as crossing soared to record levels.  

Fellow Kent MP Craig Mackinlay told MailOnline the tragedy ‘was both foreseeable and avoidable’. ‘Earlier today French police were photographed standing idly by whilst another dinghy was launched headed for Dover. This raises many questions of the French authorities – was this another dinghy to which a blind eye was turned; where were French border force vessels and SNSM [the French equivalent of the RNLI].  

‘My call is for France to properly prevent beach launchings and if they’re incapable of doing so then ask for UK assistance. My fear is this will be the first of many tragedies across the winter period. This dangerous enterprise must be stopped.’

He added: ‘Promises by the French authorities to do all they can to prevent beach launchings are beyond wearing thin. The French have refused on-site help from UK Border Force and troops, they refuse to implement their own EU obligations under the Dublin Accords, they refuse to manage the pull factor of the Pas de Calais region.

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‘Their agenda, in advance of their Presidential elections, is now obvious – to destabilise British politics and are now straying into breaches of international border agreements. Whilst we could obviously do more domestically to speed up deportations, the true blame for this crisis must be directed to wilful failures across the channel.’  

Meanwhile Labour Leader Keir Starmer said: ‘For lives to be lost in such dangerous and desperate circumstances is a devastating and heartbreaking tragedy. The UK Government, France and the wider international community have a duty to prevent people from being forced into such peril.’ 

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage was today filming in the Channel with GB News days after he confirmed he was considering a return to frontline British politics as he accused the Government of failing to ‘get a grip’ of migrant Channel crossings. 

The migrants, including at least five children, were spotted going into the water from a beach just a few miles north of Boulogne-sur-Mer, in the early hours of the morning

The migrants, including at least five children, were spotted going into the water from a beach just a few miles north of Boulogne-sur-Mer, in the early hours of the morning

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Tory MP for Folkestone and Hythe Damian Collins said: ‘The deaths today of migrants in the Channel is an avoidable tragedy. 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.’   

Jonathan Gullis, Tory MP for Stoke on Trent North, said: ‘This a terrible human tragedy, my thoughts are foremost with those involved.

‘The simple truth is that France is a safe country therefore people should not be making this journey.

‘For too long Macron has used this issue as a political football and the result is that many people have lost their lives. This must stop now. The french authorities have to now take responsibility for policing their own border or more lives will sadly be lost.’ 

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

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

Calais MP Mr Dumont said:  ‘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.’      

It comes against the backdrop of worsening relations between the UK and France over post-Brexit fishing licences in the Channel, and the AUKUS submarine pact with saw Australia tear up a billion-dollar French contract in favour of signing a new deal with Britain and America.

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Amid the worsening relations, almost 27,000 migrants have crossed the Channel this year – far eclipsing the roughly 8,000 who came in 2020 and 1,000 who arrived in 2019.

More than 6,050 have made the journey in November so-far, the most ever in a single month, and the surge shows no sign of slowing down.

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.’

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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.’ 

The group of migrants boarded the dinghy and gestured as they started to make the journey across the Channel to Britain

The group of migrants boarded the dinghy and gestured as they started to make the journey across the Channel to Britain

Among the group travelling in the dinghy from France were very young children wearing life jackets

Among the group travelling in the dinghy from France were very young children wearing life jackets

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The same children were pictured arriving in the UK several hours later, meaning they were not among the group that died

A father kisses his child as the pair arrive in the UK following a dangerous crossing of the Channel, just hours before a boat capsized and dozens of people drowned

A father kisses his child as the pair arrive in the UK following a dangerous crossing of the Channel, just hours before a boat capsized and dozens of people drowned

Coastguards are pictured helping to tow the overloaded migrant dinghy to shore after it made a dangerous early-morning crossing from France

Coastguards are pictured helping to tow the overloaded migrant dinghy to shore after it made a dangerous early-morning crossing from France

British MPs accused the French of 'wilfully' failing to stop the migrants, amid a backdrop of political in-fighting over post-Brexit fishing licences and a submarine pact with the UK and Australia

British MPs accused the French of ‘wilfully’ failing to stop the migrants, amid a backdrop of political in-fighting over post-Brexit fishing licences and a submarine pact with the UK and Australia

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French officials revealed details for the first time of how they have spent £9million from the British taxpayer, agreed as part of a £54million deal in the summer.    

A spokesman for the interior ministry said: ‘More than 100 mobile vehicles are being delivered on the ground for patrols and arrests, with equipment adapted to the specific nature of the terrain.’ 

Specialist kit would include quad bikes, 4x4s, rigid-hulled boats and ‘vehicles equipped with sophisticated monitoring and detection equipment’. The spokesman said: ‘Twenty vehicles have already been delivered and are being used by the forces on a daily basis. The others will arrive in December and over the course of 2022.’

But the French did not announce any extra personnel.

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During the last major Channel surge – which saw the ‘Jungle’ camp spring up near Calais in 2015 – France sent in 3,500 officers from its mobile police unit, the CRS. Just a couple of hundred reservist gendarmes are currently deployed.

UK officials believe the shortfall has left the French struggling to deal with the massive numbers pushed through by organised crime gangs.

Yesterday France said British cash will also be spent on ‘high-performance night-vision equipment’ and thermal cameras.

‘Specially adapted clothing’, searchlights, interception and communication equipment and torches have also been bought.

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Reminiscent of the defensive line built in the 1930s to deter a German invasion, named after France’s minister of war Andre Maginot, the equipment will be used to ‘secure the coastal strip stretching for more than 130km [100 miles], from the Dunkirk area to the Bay of the Somme’.

The spokesman added: ‘As part of the fight against illegal immigration along the Channel coast, and in order to safeguard the lives of people often in distress, the ministry of the interior is deploying its security forces day and night to monitor the coastline, prevent makeshift boats from leaving for Britain, and arrest people smugglers.’

A British government source said: ‘We are pleased that the French are now doing this work to help reduce these despicable crossings.’

Last week Home Secretary Priti Patel blamed the EU’s free movement policy for allowing thousands of migrants to sweep across the Continent to France and urged a cross-Europe attempt to tackle the problem.

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However, France has rejected British proposals to allow UK officers to work on the other side of the Channel to detect people-smuggling operations.  

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.

Six out of ten migrants arrive in France only on the day they attempt to cross – arriving from Belgium and the Netherlands.

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People smugglers are charging more than £3,300 per head to make a Channel crossing, according to latest intelligence.

A man prays on the British coast after making the crossing from France in the early hours of this morning

A man prays on the British coast after making the crossing from France in the early hours of this morning

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