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Warning ‘people will continue to drown’ in Channel unless ministers take action

People will continue to be forced into the hands of people smugglers operating flimsy small boats unless the government opens up safe routes, campaigners say (Picture: Reuters/EPA)

Warnings are being sounded that the Channel tragedy will be repeated unless the government scraps its ‘tough borders’ approach.

One refugee group said the loss of 27 people’s lives, including 17 men, seven women and three teenagers, was a ‘totally avoidable’ consequence of ‘reckless’ policies denying safe routes to the UK.

A rally organised by Care4Calais and Stand Up To Racism, described as an ‘emergency solidarity protest’, is due to voice opposition to the Nationality and Borders Bill outside Downing Street today.

The legislation underpins the government’s pledge to ‘fix the broken asylum system’ and includes new powers to deter illegal entry and remove those found to have no right to be in the UK.

Critics say the cornerstone Bill, which is currently going through parliament, will criminalise people fleeing war, poverty and persecution

Tim Naor Hilton, Chief Executive of Refugee Action, told Metro.co.uk that the response to the appalling loss of life on Wednesday should be a change of direction by the government.

Mr Hilton said: ’This is another heartbreaking tragedy and our thoughts go out to the family and friends of the people who died, as well as refugee communities up and down the country.

‘Human beings will continue to drown in the Channel while the government pursues a dangerous and reckless refugee policy that prioritises tough borders and punishment instead of protection.

‘This is totally avoidable. We urgently need more routes for people to claim asylum in the UK and effective and compassionate solutions that are designed to keep people safe, not keep people out.’

People walking in Dunkirk, France, with their belongings as they seek to make the trip across the Channel to the UK (Picture: Kiran Ridley/Getty Images Europe)
A family at a makeshift camp in northern France the day after 27 people died when their dinghy deflated (Picture: Johanna Geron/Reuters)

A pregnant woman was among those who died when the group’s dinghy capsized off the coast of Calais.

Despite the tragedy, crossings have since continued in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

Asylum claims reached the highest level for almost 20 years in the 12 months to September, with 37,562 applications, Home Office figures show.

While the Bill is the keystone of the Home Secretary’s response to the surge in crossings, campaigners say it will only force more people into the hands of the people smugglers.

Enver Solomon, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, told Metro.co.uk: ‘We oppose the Nationality and Borders Bill and we are calling on the government to rethink its approach.

‘We are concerned that the Bill is essentially about trying to limit the opportunities for people to apply for refugee status and it’s underpinned by a notion that this country should be less welcoming not more welcoming of all those who flee war and persecution regardless of how they get to the UK.

People are brought ashore in Dungeness, Kent, onboard an RNLI lifeboat after they were rescued in the Channel (Picture: Henry Nicholls/Reuters)
More than 40 people board an inflatable dinghy, as they leave the coast of northern France to cross the Channel (Picture: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

‘The Bill isn’t going to address the fundamental shortcomings of the asylum system, particularly the long delays where people are left in limbo awaiting a decision on their asylum claim.

‘New data published yesterday showed there are 80,000 people stuck in the system and tens of thousands have been waiting for more than a year.

‘If the government is serious about reform it needs to create a system which is fair, efficient and effective rather than a system which seeks to differentiate between who is deserving and undeserving based on how they travelled to the UK.’

The political fallout from the tragedy is also playing out across the Channel, as France cancelled a meeting between Priti Patel and her French counterpart which had been scheduled for Sunday.

Paris took exception to an ‘unacceptable’ public letter sent by the Prime Minister to French President Emmanuel Macron setting out five steps to prevent a repeat of the tragedy.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has made the Nationality and Borders Bill central to her response to the Channel tragedy and the surge in crossings (Picture: PA)

Boris Johnson had suggested measures including joint patrols to prevent boats leaving beaches and an agreement to return people making the crossing back to France.

In the long-term, the government is looking to the Bill as the solution to a ‘broken asylum system’. The controversial legislation is the focus of hundreds of protestors who are due to gather outside Downing Street at 2pm to demand ‘safe passage for all’.

Proposed changes include ‘new and tougher criminal offences’ for those attempting to enter the UK illegally and life sentences for people smugglers. Border Force officials would be able to ‘stop and divert’ vessels suspected of carrying ‘illegal migrants’, sending them back to where their sea journey began.

The Home Office states: ‘We stand by our moral and legal obligations to help innocent people fleeing cruelty from around the world.

‘But the system must be a fair one.’

Metro.co.uk has approached the Home Office for further comment.

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