A family of two adults and two children, aged 6 and 9, have been identified as those who died when their boat sank off the coast of Dunkirk in France on Tuesday, according to the latest news reports. Their 15-month-old toddler is still missing, reports said.
They were part of a group of migrants trying to cross the Channel and their deaths are thought to be the biggest single loss of life since the current migrant crisis began, Sky News reported, bringing the death toll since 2018 up to 10.
French authorities have carried out a further search after the boat capsized, but were stood down on Wednesday unless further information comes to light. Another 15 people from the same boat have been taken to hospital.
The devastating news has prompted charities to issue a stark warning to England and France of the probability of more deaths, and urge governments to provide legal routes for migrants and refugees to enter the country.
The NGO Save the Children has said the English Channel, “must not become a graveyard for children.” It called upon England and France to "come up with a joint plan that ensures the safety of vulnerable children and families.”
Clare Moseley, the founder of refugee charity Care4Calais, said that the incident should be a “wake-up call”.
"It is cruel and horrifying that, this time, young children are among the victims,” she continued. "We have to provide a safe and legal process by which refugees can have their UK asylum claims heard, that's the way to put an end to terrifying, dangerous sea crossings and stop tragedy striking again."
According to reports, in this incident, the boat was spotted having difficulties 2km from the French coast and four French boats, plus a fishing boat, and a Belgian helicopter launched a rescue operation, but did not arrive in time before it had capsized.
The UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a statement posted to Twitter that she was “truly saddened” to learn of the incident. She added that she “will do everything” to stop criminals “exploiting vulnerable people”, referring to the people smugglers who arrange crossings.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson added that his government had offered French authorities “every support”.
“We will do all we can to crack down on the ruthless criminal gangs who prey on vulnerable people by facilitating these dangerous journeys,” he said.
The government has so far proposed numerous strategies to deter people from attempting to cross the water to England. In August a plan was proposed by Patel to use Navy ships to force the boats to turn around and go back to France, which was described as “unlawful and dangerous” by Amnesty International.
The UNHCR (The United Nations Refugee Agency) said that it was “troubled” by those plans and said the numbers making the crossing remain “low and manageable”, the BBC reported at the time.
More than 7,400 migrants have reached the UK in small boats this year, up from 1,825 in 2019.