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UK urges ‘coordinated’ response after deadliest English Channel crossing

British home secretary refuses to rule out new legislation in parliament that allow for migrant boats to be turned back across the Channel after 27 people were killed when an inflatable dinghy lost air en route to British shores.

France and Britain agreed to step up efforts to thwart traffickers blamed for the surge in crossings across the English Channel. (Reuters)

Britain has demanded a “coordinated international effort” across Europe to deter people-smuggling after at least 27 migrants drowned as they tried to reach England.

Interior Minister Priti Patel told MPs on Thursday, “Yesterday was the moment that many of us have feared for many years,” restating an offer to send British police and border officers to France after she held telephone talks with French counterpart Gerald Darmanin.

The home secretary also refused to rule out turning migrant boats back across the Channel, under new legislation currently progressing through parliament.

But, she said, while the new immigration bill would help tackle the crisis, “we cannot do it alone”.

“This is a complicated issue and there is no simple fix. It does mean a Herculean effort and it will be impossible without close cooperation between all international partners and agencies,” Patel said.

“This requires a coordinated international effort, and I’ve been in constant contact with my counterparts from France, Poland, Austria, Belgium, Italy and Greece to name just a few because of the nature of the crisis, and the fact that we are seeing 80 million displaced people in the world.”

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‘Cemetery’

Downing Street said that, regardless of the UK’s exit from the EU, it stood ready to pursue all avenues of cooperation on the crisis and stressed that asylum-seekers should lodge their claims in safe destinations such as France.

After Wednesday’s tragedy, France called for urgent talks among ministers from the European Union, but continent-wide cooperation on migration has been disrupted by Brexit.

President Emmanuel Macron, after vowing France would not allow the Channel to become a “cemetery”, spoke to Johnson to agree on stepping up efforts to thwart the traffickers blamed for the surge in crossings.

Prime Minister Jean Castex also held a crisis meeting on Thursday with ministers to discuss new measures, his office said.

Seventeen men, seven women and three minors died when the inflatable boat lost air and took on water off the northern port of Calais on Wednesday, according to public prosecutors in Lille. A manslaughter probe has been opened.

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