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Six people were killed in the deadliest small boat tragedy in the English Channel in almost two years on Saturday, as the British government faced renewed calls to create a safe and legal route for asylum seekers.

The incident happened in the early hours of Saturday when a boat carrying about 65 migrants seeking to travel to the UK capsized. The dead included six men from Afghanistan, aged around 30, a French prosecutor told AFP.

Five people are still believed to be missing, the prosecutor’s office said in an update on Sunday. The company said it opened an investigation into the incident, which could eventually lead to the alleged people smuggler being charged with involuntary homicide or injury.

The tragedy underscores the risks faced by migrants trying to cross the border by small boat with the help of people smugglers, and the challenges authorities face in trying to stop it.

The end of a week-long campaign by the British government advocating its approach to stop migrants crossing the English Channel comes to an end.

Axel Gaudinat, coordinator of migrant support charity Utopia 56, warned that “tragedies like this will continue to happen if we do not provide safe routes for people ‘trying to get to the UK’.”

He added that increased border policing around Calais had forced migrants to travel further up the coast in smaller boats, making the journey longer and more dangerous.

According to the Home Office, the number of people arriving in the UK by small boat has reached 100,000 in the five years since records began last week.

Some 15,800 people have crossed the border this year, according to UK government figures, although that figure is down 15% on the same period last year. Despite the tragedy in the early hours of Saturday, Home Office figures show 509 people arrived by small boat that day.

While the UK offers some nationality-specific routes for displaced people to enter the country from places such as Ukraine, Hong Kong and Afghanistan, rights groups have criticized the lack of available legal pathways for asylum seekers from other countries to enter the UK, leading them to rely on dangerous and illegal options .

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government has repeatedly vowed to “stop the boats” and has dramatically increased financial aid to France to monitor the coastline with patrols and drones.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said she had spoken to the British Border Force team dealing with Saturday’s incident, adding on Twitter: “My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the incident. Our thoughts are with those affected by the tragic loss of life in the English Channel.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the incident was “another tragedy with many more people dead or at risk” and the government “urgently needs to stop these dangerous border crossings and stop the horrific smuggling Criminal gangs that make a profit while killing people” “.

In 2022, 5 people died while trying to cross. Last year, 27 migrants, including several children, died when their boat sank, the worst such incident on record. French judges have been investigating alleged misconduct by emergency workers in the case and have laid preliminary charges against five of them, saying they failed to respond to multiple calls for help.

Speaking from the port of Calais, France’s undersecretary for maritime affairs, Hervé Belleville, vowed to “fight tirelessly” against people smugglers who are “responsible for killing people”.


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