A source close to Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, said: “To put someone in the Channel on a day like today shows how desperate the traffickers are to make money out of vulnerable people.”
The traffickers, who charge up to £3,500 per place, only get their cut of the money from their bosses when the boats are put to sea. A record 7,500 migrants have reached the UK in small boats so far this year, almost treble the 1,900 in the whole of 2019.
Around 20 migrants, thought to be Iraqi and Iranian Kurds, were packed into the stolen small boat that left the Dunkirk coast on Tuesday morning in winds of 18 mph and water temperatures of just 14 degrees.
They were spotted sinking two miles offshore by a French sailing boat called Marbuzet. A major air and sea search was launched including the French Navy, a Caiman helicopter from the Belgian air force and at least five other vessels including a local fishing boat.
One man on the boat is said to have drowned. A woman and the five year-old child were among at least 15 migrants pulled from the sea having suffered cardiac arrest. They died within minutes. The eight-year-old died in hospital.
Some of the migrants told rescuers they had seen the woman with a baby, who was missing, but no body was found and an air and sea search will resume at first light on Wednesday.
There have been two previous fatal incidents this year involving migrants. In August a Sudanese man attempting to cross with a friend in a stolen boat with shovels for oars fell overboard and died.