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AT LEAST 30 refugees have reportedly drowned after their inflatable dinghy capsized while trying to cross the English Channel to reach Britain.
A fishing boat sounded the alarm after spotting several people in the water off the French coast on Wednesday afternoon.
The head of Calais port Jean-Marc Puissesseau told BBC News that 50 people were on board the boat.
“What I have heard is that there are 30 people who have died, and about five or six who have been found,” he said.
French media reported at around 6.30pm British time that the death toll had risen to 33, making it the highest death toll from a small boat crossing the Channel since 2018.
PM Boris Johnson has called an emergency Cobra meeting in response to the tragedy, telling reporters outside Downing Street on Wednesday he was “shocked, appalled and saddened,” by the deaths.
But charities and campaigners have blamed the tragedy on British government policies.
War on Want director Asad Rehman said on Twitter: “The politics of ‘walls & fences’ can be counted in the dead bodies in the Mediterranean & the Channel - no crocodile tears from [government] - they are responsible for these deaths.”
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants described the deaths as entirely preventable.
“How many more people need to die before government stops playing politics with people's lives?” the group asked.
Refugee Council chief executive Enver Solomon said: “Every day, people are forced to flee their home through no fault of their own. Now is the time to end the cruel and ineffective tactic of seeking to punish or push away those who try and find safety in our country.”
British Red Cross chief executive Mike Adamson said there were no simple answers to the problem, but urged the government to rethink plans to make the asylum system harder to access.
“This should start with ambitious plans for new safe routes and a commitment to resettle 10,000 people a year,” he said.
The Strait of Dover is the busiest shipping lane in the world and has claimed many lives of people trying to cross to Britain in inflatable dinghies.
More than 25,700 have made the dangerous journey in small boats this year, three times the total for the whole of 2020.
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