People smugglers failed to give life jackets to the migrants who later drowned in the English Channel – and just hours later attempted to persuade more people to make the fatal crossing.
Six Afghan men were killed when their rickety rubber dinghy went into the water off the coast of France while en route to England. 59 more had to be rescued.
And just hours after Saturday’s deaths, an undercover reporter was assured the crossing was safe and offered him passage for thousands.
On the morning of the boat’s sinking, witnesses said gunfire was heard at a camp near Dunkirk as Afghan migrants desperate for a seat on the doomed, overcrowded ship clashed with Kurdish people smugglers after they had been turned down.
Muhamad, 15, from Afghanistan told The Times: “There was shouting too. I think there was a fight between Kurds and Afghans, but I’m not entirely sure. I just hid myself.”
The callousness of trafficking gangs yesterday sparked calls for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to keep up pressure on deportations and deterring barges from Rwanda to discourage would-be migrants from risking their lives.
On the same day the six Afghan men died, 509 people made the crossing – some were treated by paramedics and taken to hospital
French officials said the gangs were “flooding” the coast with boats to strain police resources.
Hervé Berville, France’s Minister for the Sea, said the traffickers were trying to “trigger simultaneous crossings at Dunkirk and Boulogne to keep the police busy”.
But he warned, “Put 60 people on a boat in a force three or four wind and it’s deadly.”
Régis Holy, captain of a French lifeboat that helped recover the bodies on Saturday, confirmed that none were wearing life jackets.
He said: “You don’t get used to it. Dealing with a body is difficult. It’s heavy, the clothes are wet.”
The Coast Guard suspended its search and rescue operation yesterday afternoon and said all missing persons had been cleared.
Despite the horror, the traffickers continued to sell seats on their death-trap boats, insisting they were safe.
A reporter posing as a migrant and making contact with a smuggler was offered two places on a rubber dinghy from France for £6,500.
The crook said there were only 27 other people on board, adding: “We don’t overcrowd the boat with 60 people like others do.”
When the reporter mentioned the Channel deaths, they dismissed it with assurances that their boats were safe.
Ministers yesterday vowed to do whatever they can to curb the gangs by removing the pull factors luring migrants to the UK.
Welsh Minister David TC Davies insisted the Rwanda deportation scheme would take away the incentive to jump into rickety boats.
He told Times Radio: “There really is no reason for people to risk their lives in this way.
“And we should do everything we can to discourage people and prevent smugglers from endangering lives.
“It’s a tragedy. But unfortunately that will remain the case as long as people are taken to sea in small, unstable and leaky rafts.”
Suella Braverman’s Home Office has also been criticized for its handling of the illegal immigration crisis.
Conservative MP Tim Loughton was distraught at the huge backlog of asylum cases, saying: “There is a problem with the way the Home Office is working and I think it needs a really systematic analysis of where it’s going wrong.”
“It has to be much more flexible. The way it responds when processing the claims needs to be much faster.”
A former cabinet minister said yesterday Saturday was “the worst moment for the Home Office since John Reid declared it inappropriate”.
And Labor shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said smuggling gangs are “keeping the government in check”.
But both the deportation flights to Rwanda and the barge plan have been challenged by left-wing lawyers.
A Supreme Court battle this fall against activists opposed to the Rwanda plan will decide whether ministers can finally implement their plan and deport illegal migrants to the country’s capital, Kigali.
Tory MPs are also urging Mr Sunak to consider withdrawing from the European Court of Human Rights, which has blocked flights where necessary to begin deportations.
Meanwhile it emerged that a group of asylum seekers were refusing to move from hotels onto the ‘Bibby Stockholm’ barge off Dorset.
Before the ship was emptied two days ago due to a Legionella threat, charities had successfully prevented around 20 migrants from boarding.
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told The Sun it was important to move people from hotels to barges to remove a significant factor of attraction to the UK.
He said: “There are two crucial things. They must be accommodated in barges, not hotels, and there must be flights to Rwanda.
“The moment that happens, migrants are suddenly deterred. They’ll say to themselves, ‘If I go over there, I’ll get on one of these barges and then I’ll go to Rwanda.’”
To cut the £6million-a-day cost of accommodating asylum seekers in hotels, ministers want to hire more barges.
They are also looking into renting office buildings and former student accommodation.
It emerged last night that Dorset City Council had not officially informed the Home Office for three days that it had found Legionella on the barge.
The water tests were received by the authority last Monday, but only reported on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a government memorandum to Home Office officials – seen by The Telegraph – revealed the migrant crisis is expected to last at least five years.
It showed plans to house migrants in RAF bases and a former prison for three to five years.