People who embark migrants on boats to the UK in harsh weather conditions are murderers, the head of the port of Calais has said.

His comments come after more than 30 asylum seekers drowned as they tried to reach the UK this afternoon in the worst tragedy ever seen crossing the Channel.

Asylum seekers are brought ashore Photo: UKNIP

Still people were pulled out of the icy water after a dinghy capsized off Calais, with up to 50 people reported on board at the time.

A major search and rescue operation is still underway, with three helicopters assisting British and French ships.

Jean-Marc Puissesseau, the boss of the port of Calais, lambasted the smugglers who help facilitate the perilous crossings.

“I think the people who are paid by the migrants to come to your country, with such bad weather, with such rough seas, they are murderers,” he said.

“They are having no success trying to get through with these weather conditions. The sea is cold and the waves are big.

Credit: PA Graphics
Credit: PA Graphics

“These are murderers, and the poor migrants who took months and months to come here, and die so close to their dream … I don’t really know what to do.”

His remarks are echoed by the French Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, who added: “We cannot say enough about the criminal nature of the smugglers who organize these crossings”.

Speaking this evening, Boris Johnson said he was “shocked and dismayed and deeply saddened by the loss of life at sea in the English Channel”.

He said: “This disaster underscores how dangerous it is to cross the Channel in this way, and it also shows how vital it is that we now step up our efforts to break the business model of the gangsters who send people in. sea ​​in this manner. “

Prime Minister Boris Johnson.  Image: PA
Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Image: PA

He added that the disaster shows that the measures taken by the government to help fight against the dangerous passages of migrants “have not been sufficient”.

“I say to our partners across the Channel, now is the time for all of us to step up, to work together, to do all we can to break down these gangs who are literally getting away with murder,” he said. -he declares.

“What this shows is that the gangs that send people to sea in these dangerous boats will literally stop at nothing.

“But I’m afraid this also shows that the operation carried out by our friends on the beaches backed by £ 54million from the UK – all the technical support we have given – was not enough.

“Our offer is to increase our support, but also to work together with our partners on the beaches concerned.”

Boris Johnson is expected to hold an emergency COBRA meeting following today’s disaster.

Interior Minister Priti Patel.  Image: Home office
Interior Minister Priti Patel. Image: Home office

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “This serves as the most brutal reminder possible of the dangers of these Channel crossings organized by ruthless criminal gangs.”

She said the government’s new immigration plan “will revamp our failing asylum system and tackle many of the long-standing pull factors encouraging migrants to make the perilous journey from France to the UK. Uni “, adding that the government will step up efforts to prevent asylum seekers who embark on deadly journeys.

Dover MP Natalie Elphicke also said today’s “absolute tragedy” shows why it is crucial to stop the gangs who send boats for the perilous journey.

She said: “As winter approaches, the sea will become rougher, the water colder, the risk that even more lives will be tragically lost.

“That is why stopping these dangerous passages is the humanitarian and right thing to do.”

“The smugglers are a symptom, not a cause of the problem …”

But Clare Moseley, founder of migrant charity Care4Calais, said the government should focus on creating a “safe and legal” way for people to seek asylum, not crack down on smugglers. .

“The smugglers are a symptom, not a cause of the problem,” she told Sky News.

“The underlying problem is the fact that if you want to apply for asylum in the UK you have to be physically present here and these people have no way of getting there. small boats.

“[The Prime Minister] must create a safe and legal way for them to seek asylum.

“Nobody says ‘open the borders, let everyone in. We say properly assess their claims, see who deserves asylum, and the people who do, we will give it to them.’

MP Natalie Elphicke
MP Natalie Elphicke

Today’s tragedy has sparked anguish among charities which have long campaigned to tackle the “dangerous situation at the border” faced by migrants trying to reach the UK.

Care4Calais says he is “devastated” by the news.

He tweeted: “More than ever we need a modern system of secure legal channels for refugees to seek asylum in the UK.

“After today’s tragedy, the British asylum system must surely be regarded as intolerable by all reasonable people.

“On behalf of those who have died, we once again urge the government to drop its anti-refugee bill and introduce a just and modern system now.

“For the love of mankind. Please.”

Charlotte Kwantes, head of Utopia 56, a charity working with migrants, added: “For years we have been denouncing and warning about the dangerous situation at the border.

“As long as safe passageways are not put in place between England and France, or as long as these people cannot receive papers to stay in France, there will continue to be deaths at the border, whether it would be [Gérald] Darmanin comes to Calais or not. “

A major rescue operation is underway Photo from the library
A major rescue operation is underway Photo from the library

Folkestone and Hythe MP Damian Collins called today’s incident a “preventable tragedy”.

Echoing the sentiments expressed by the Prime Minister and other parliamentarians this evening, he said: “We must stop these crossings and crack down on the criminal gangs who profit from them. We have to show that the crossings are futile and will not lead to a right to stay in the UK. “

Responding to the news of the deaths, French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron said: “My thoughts are with the many missing and injured, victims of criminal smugglers who exploit their distress and injuries. “

Canterbury Labor MP Rosie Duffield took to Twitter to express her sadness for those who have died, adding: “They are human beings, fleeing a horrific situation, desperate enough to risk this dangerous nightmarish journey.”

The English Channel is the busiest fishing route in the world and despite repeated wishes from the British and French governments to prevent people from risking their lives to cross, the number has increased and now stands at over 25,700 in 2021 , triple the total for 2020.

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

“It’s time to stop the blame game”: analysis by a political editor Paul Francois

Despite all the words of collaboration and partnership, it often seemed like the UK and France were miles from each other when it came to resolving the Channel Crossing crisis.

Yes, there has been a dialogue and various initiatives.

Not only that, but the government has agreed to give the French authorities £ 54million to help tackle the criminal gangs who organize the crossings on one of the busiest sea routes in the world.

But too often it has seemed that the national political agendas of both governments have interfered in efforts to find a way out.

Although there is talk of bilateral agreements and making the Channel “unsustainable”, the harsh reality is that the trajectory of numbers taking the perilous journey is always going in the wrong direction.

The tragedy unfolding tonight must be the spur to find a solution. We need new momentum and direct action. Above all, both sides must stop the blame game and show a real commitment to finding a way to reduce the number of people who risk their lives.

We will hear warm words from the UK and France in the coming days, as well as many commitments. The litmus test will be whether they go beyond mere rhetoric.