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Channel deaths: Lifeboatman recalls ‘trauma’ of pulling bodies from water – but people are not easily dissuaded by tales of tragedy | UK News

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Dawn is still breaking when we call in on Charles Devos, the man who saw it all.

Charles is a lifeboatman, just like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather before him. It was his boat that responded to a Mayday call, reporting that 15 people had fallen into the water in the middle of the Channel.

When he arrived, it was a dreadful scene. Charles pulled body after body from the water.

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Deaths ‘no deterrent’’

“Unfortunately we were only able to recover dead people,” he says, standing in the small office building by the town’s port.

He said the boat would have been about 10 metres long, but that it was completely unsuited to the choppy waters of the Channel. By the time he arrived, it had deflated. The boat had become simply a piece of useless plastic.

“Was it a valve that came loose or did it hit something? We may never really know, but I don’t think it was a collision,” says Charles. “The boat was overwhelmed. The sight of these people, drowned, and then having to recover them… it was traumatic.”

But will it change anything? Does death on this scale move the dial? Charles shrugs. “They’re going to continue to try to cross. Calais to Dover is the shortest route. Unfortunately I think there will be more departures.”

He is, of course, correct. As we spoke, other boats were setting off from the beaches up and down this coast. At the main station in Calais, we found dozens of people, many soaking wet, who had tried and failed to get across the Channel and were now being bussed off to temporary accommodation. They will try again, probably quite soon.

Hassan said he would still try to cross the Channel as his life would be "much better" in the UK
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Hassan said he would still try to cross the Channel as his life would be ‘much better’ in the UK

Hassan is a good example. An Iraqi Kurd, he is sleeping rough near Dunkirk. “I heard the news. I have to be honest, I don’t care about other people. If I have my life jacket on I can swim to get to the UK. My heart is strong and I can swim. My life would be much better if I got to the UK. I try every day.”

It is a statement that sounds callous, but is actually born of pragmatism. The people who crowd these camps in northern France are there with only one aim in mind, and that is to reach the shores of Great Britain.

They have often spent months, as well as thousands of pounds, getting this far, eluding police, border guards and enduring pain and discomfort. They are not easily dissuaded, even by appalling tales of tragedy.

The town of Calais was already weary of its reputation as a magnet for migrants, and now the atmosphere is even more taut. Lots of local people find the topic simply too irritating to talk about; others decry the lack of police presence and say Calais has been dragged down by a stream of transient arrivals that stretches back about two decades.

This is what remains of the boat that capsized in the Channel and resulted in the deaths of 27 people
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The remains of the boat that capsized in the Channel and resulted in the deaths of 27 people

But there are also those who think the answer lies in better care and more robust accommodation, so as to integrate migrants into the community around them.

The French police often play their own two-sided game, releasing a lot of officers into the area as a show of strength, but then watching as boats are carried down beaches.

The simple fact is that there are no easy answers. The UK and France both blame the other for not doing enough, while the tides that push people towards the migration route to Britain are many and various.

For a long time, migration has seemed like a theoretical discussion, clouded in politics, economics and questions of culture and heritage. But now it has a dreadful, personal history. Out in the cold, bleak waters of the Channel, 27 people died a horrible death, just because they wanted to get to Britain.

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Channel deaths: Boris Johnson sets out five-point plan to address crossings following tragedy | Politics News

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Boris Johnson has offered to work with France to “move further and faster” in order to tackle small boat crossings and avoid a repeat of the “appalling tragedy” in the Channel that left 27 people dead.

The prime minister has written to President Emmanuel Macron and set out five steps he thinks both sides should take “as soon as possible”.

Mr Johnson’s letter comes after 27 people – 17 men, seven women and two teenage boys and a girl – died near Calais on Wednesday while trying to cross the English Channel to the UK in a flimsy boat.

The PM’s five-point plan entails:

• Joint patrols to prevent migrant boats from leaving French beaches
• Using more advanced technology such as sensors and radar
• Carry out reciprocal maritime patrols in each nation’s territorial waters and utilise airborne surveillance
• “Deepening the work” of the Joint Intelligence Cell and ensuring there is better intelligence sharing to drive more arrests and prosecutions
• Committing to “immediate work” to strike a bilateral returns agreement between Paris and London, as well as discussions on a UK-EU agreement

“If those who reach this country were swiftly returned the incentive for people to put their lives in the hands of traffickers would be significantly reduced,” Mr Johnson said.

“This would be the single biggest step we could take together to reduce the draw to Northern France and break the business model of criminal gangs.

“I am confident that by taking these steps and building on our existing cooperation we can address illegal migration and prevent more families from experiencing the devastating loss we saw yesterday.”

The PM said that having spoken to the French president in the wake of Wednesday’s tragedy “I know President Macron recognises, as I do, the urgency of the situation we are both facing”.

Home Secretary Priti Patel will meet French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin this weekend to discuss the migrant crisis, along with counterparts from Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

In his letter to Mr Macron, Mr Johnson said he was ready to “upgrade this meeting to a leaders’ level summit or to arrange further bilateral discussions with you or with colleagues”.

Ms Patel and her French counterpart spoke on the phone on Thursday to “put forward plans for greater collaboration and innovation in stopping these deadly crossings”.

Home Office officials and law enforcement officers will be in Paris on Friday to “intensify joint co-operation and intelligence-sharing”.

Ms Patel, who is under pressure on the issue after promising in August 2020 to make the route across the English Channel “unviable”, also renewed an offer to send British officers to join patrols on French beaches.

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‘No quick fix’ to migrant crisis

The home secretary earlier told the Commons there is “no quick fix” to tackling the crossings.

“This is about addressing long-term pull factors, smashing the criminal gangs that treat human beings as cargo and tackling supply chains,” she said.

Mr Macron said he was requesting more assistance from the UK.

“We are going to ask for extra help from the British because all these men and these women don’t want to stay in France,” he said.

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Only five migrant returns in 2021, admits minister

“We tell them they’re obviously able to do so, and there are centres in Calais and Dunkirk where they can go, but we’re going to reinforce in fact saving them at sea.”

Natacha Bouchart, mayor of Calais, laid the blame for the crisis at the door of the British and called on Mr Johnson to “face up to his responsibilities”.

“The British government is to blame. I believe that Boris Johnson has, for the past year and a half, cynically chosen to blame France,” she said, according to French media reports.

And Franck Dhersin, vice president of transport for the northern Hauts-de-France region, said the “mafia chiefs” who spearhead the trafficking networks live in the UK and must be arrested.

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Coastguard alerts ships to Channel boat sinking

Wednesday’s loss of life is the worst of the migrant crisis, which has seen numbers reaching the UK by sea increase from 8,417 in 2020 to more than 25,000 so far this year.

New figures from the Home Office show that asylum claims in the UK are at their highest level for almost 20 years, with more than 37,500 claims made in the year to September.

A government minister revealed last week that just five people had been returned to Europe after crossing the sea on small boats.

Deportations as a whole – not just for people who cross the Channel – are at an historic low.

In the year to June 2021 they decreased to 2,910 – less than half the previous year. The government blamed the drop on the pandemic.



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COVID-19: What we know so far about B.1.1.529 variant that may make vaccines ‘less effective’ | World News

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Vaccines could be less effective against a new COVID variant that UK scientists are “deeply concerned” about, says the health secretary.

Sajid Javid said B.1.1.529 could also be more transmissible and has banned travel from six African countries as a precaution.

Here’s what we know so far.

How concerning is the variant?

It has 32 spike protein mutations, which means the current crop of vaccines may not be as effective at providing protection.

Spike proteins are what viruses use to get into human cells, and some of the vaccines work by training the body to recognise the spikes and neutralise them.

Mutations on the spike can therefore potentially prove problematic.

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‘Our scientists are deeply concerned’ – Javid

Sajid Javid said it has “perhaps double the number of mutations that we have seen in the Delta variant”.

Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, branded the mutations “really awful”.

Another expert, Tulio de Oliveira, from the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa, agreed that the “constellation” of mutations is a “concern for predicted immune evasion and transmissibility”.

It’s unclear at the moment whether the variant may cause more severe disease.

Epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson said B.1.1.529 is concerning but there is not yet an “evidence-based assessment of the risk” – such as to what extent it may cause a problem for vaccines.

Have any cases been found in the UK?

No – the good news is that only a handful have been detected across the globe and Dr Peacock emphasised cases are currently “super low”.

So far, three have been found in Botswana, 53 in South Africa and one in Hong Kong – from someone who had travelled from South Africa.

Scientists are therefore hopeful it can be contained and the UK has acted early to try to stop any potential spread.

As well as banning travel from six countries – South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe – people who’ve arrived from there in the last 10 days are being asked to get a PCR test.

It’s important to note that it’s normal for viruses to mutate, and often they can just die out.

How was the variant discovered?

It was found amid a rapid increase in COVID cases in South Africa in the past week.

They increased to more than 1,200 per day on Wednesday and 2,465 on Thursday, having previously been just over 200 per day.

A person gets vaccinated in Soweto, South Africa, earlier in November
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A person gets vaccinated in Soweto, South Africa, earlier in November

The first surge was in and around Pretoria, said South Africa health minister health minister Joe Phaahla, with clusters of cases linked to student gatherings.

Scientists examined the genomic sequencing of these new cases and discovered the variant.

Importantly, they are now looking at what percentage of this surge is the new B.1.1.529 variant.

Experts from seven South Africa universities are studying it and have 100 whole genomes. They also say the variant shows up using a PCR test.

What is the World Health Organisation saying?

It classed it among one of its eight variants under monitoring (VUM) on Wednesday, indicating it may pose a future risk.

Its technical working group is meeting again on Friday to discuss the latest.

The WHO may decide to upgrade it a variant of concern (VOC) – on par with established variants like Delta, meaning it has “global public health significance” – and issue guidance to member countries.

It may also classify it a less serious variant of interest (VOI), which indicates for example that it may affect transmissibility or disease severity.

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Channel deaths: People smugglers touting openly on Facebook | UK News

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Finding a route across the channel is as easy as typing “smuggler” into Facebook.

Far from being a hidden world, Sky News has found that a network of smugglers is operating openly on the social media platform.

Routes into Europe and the UK are regularly highlighted, with posts featuring images of the Union Jack and Big Ben.

One smuggler even claimed he would be able to make customers a British passport.

It comes as 27 people died while attempting to cross the Channel, one of the worst death tolls in recent years.

Discussions about the best ways to cross the channel are also taking place on Facebook
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Discussions about the best ways to cross the channel are also taking place on Facebook

Many who attempt the crossing come from counties including Iran, Syria and Iraq, with high numbers of Iraqi Kurds attempting to make the dangerous journey.

Sky News searched Facebook for terms written in Kurdish and Arabic such as “smuggler” and “UK visa”, as well as locations such as Calais, Dunkirk and England.

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These results brought up smugglers advertising the routes, listing their phone numbers and inviting people to message them privately for more information, such as costs.

There is no suggestion Facebook is taking any revenue for the content.

This post claims customers will be able to legally travel into the UK within three days and that the journey will be done in the “best, safest and easiest way”.

Smugglers are posting adverts on Facebook, such as this one which provides a phone number
Image:
Smugglers are posting adverts on Facebook, such as this one which provides a phone number

One of the most prolific smugglers posting onto Facebook is a man who says he lives in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

He claims to be able to get migrants into a number of countries, including the UK. In this advert he promotes a route from Dunkirk to the United Kingdom at “a reasonable price”.

This advert, which also includes a phone number, offers a number of routes such as Dunkirk to the UK
Image:
This advert, which also includes a phone number, offers a number of routes such as Dunkirk to the UK

On his Facebook profile, he describes himself as putting “trust before profit”. His cover photo – a photo at the top of the page – is of a passport and boarding card.

'Trust before profit' is written in the 'intro' section of this smuggler's profile
Image:
‘Trust before profit’ is written in the ‘intro’ section of this smuggler’s profile

He often posts several adverts a week, many with the same wording. In his adverts he claims to offer guarantees as well as being able to deliver “the lowest price and the shortest time”.

Many of the adverts are copied and pasted across different pages
Image:
Many of the adverts are copied and pasted across different pages

To encourage prospective customers, the smuggler has posted a number of passports and visas he claims to have secured.

One smuggler has uploaded a number of passports and visas he claims to have secured for other migrants
Image:
One smuggler has uploaded a number of passports and visas he claims to have secured for other migrants

Like many other smugglers on the platform, he uses photos of landmarks to help catch people’s attention.

Smugglers often post pictures of famous European landmarks in their adverts
Image:
Smugglers often post pictures of famous European landmarks in their adverts

Here, a different smuggler posts his advert alongside pictures of the Union Jack and Big Ben. In his post he claims he will be able to “make you a British passport”.

This smuggler claims he will be able to 'make you a British passport'
Image:
This smuggler claims he will be able to ‘make you a British passport’

His offer is eye-catching, with 210 people liking the post and almost 30 comments posted beneath it.

“Hello brother, I want to talk to you,” one man writes. “My dear brother, inbox me”, the smuggler writes back, inviting him to send him a direct private message.

Images of European flag carrier planes are also used.

As well as landmarks, photos of flag carrier planes such as British Airways and Air France form part of the adverts
Image:
As well as landmarks, photos of flag carrier planes such as British Airways and Air France form part of the adverts. There’s no indication any airlines are involved in aiding the smugglers

In this advert, a smuggler features both British Airways and Air France planes. The final image in his post includes a phone number to call. The photos of the airlines are used without permission and there is no indication that British Airways or Air France are aware the images are being used in this way.

Some adverts do not rely on promises, guarantees and glossy images of the UK. One smuggler simply posts that he can take people from France to Britain and provides a number.

Those looking to be smuggled use the platform to ask questions, including on costs
Image:
Those looking to be smuggled use the platform to ask questions, including on costs

Many adverts are posted into pages used primarily for other reasons, ranging from general community pages to those for an electronic goods store.

However, some pages are set up specifically to discuss smuggling and attract those looking to get into the UK and elsewhere.

One example of this is a group page called “Smuggling to Europe with a guarantee”. Its profile and cover photos are images of migrants taken from news sites. It has almost 800 members.

The name of this page, which has almost 800 members, is 'Smuggling to Europe with a guarantee'
Image:
The name of this page, which has almost 800 members, is ‘Smuggling to Europe with a guarantee’

One of the page’s most recent posts was published on 10 November and is of a video showing migrants in Dunkirk, France.

Another video shared on these pages includes one from social media app TikTok. It shows part of the journey between Calais and the UK.

A TikTok video about crossing from Calais to France was also shared on one of the pages
Image:
A TikTok video about crossing from Calais to France was also shared on one of the pages

It’s not just smugglers posting adverts. People post questions about costs and routes. They also share news about other migrant crossings.

One man asks if a German visa would enable him to enter Britain. A profile which appears to belong to a smuggler replies that it wouldn’t work. The first man adds if a person can get to Germany, they could attempt to get to the UK “by foot”.

Routes through Europe are also discussed
Image:
Routes through Europe are also discussed

Another man asks how much it costs to get into Britain.

Those looking to be smuggled use the platform to ask questions, including on costs
Image:
Those looking to be smuggled use the platform to ask questions, including on costs

Another shares the news of the high number of migrants who died on Wednesday.

News of the deaths on Wednesday were shared widely on a number of migrant pages
Image:
News of the deaths on Wednesday were shared widely on a number of migrant pages

Five months ago, Priti Patel wrote to social media companies including Facebook, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube. She said more needed to be done to remove posts that are “glamourising” dangerous migrant crossings.

A spokesperson for Meta, who own Facebook, told Sky News: “Our thoughts go out to all those affected by these tragic events.

“Co-ordinating people smuggling is not allowed on Facebook and we work with law enforcement to tackle it.

“We use a combination of AI technology, human review and reports from our users and trusted partners to detect and remove posts like this.”

Sky News understands the pages brought to the attention of Facebook are now under investigation and will be removed if they are found to have violated the platform’s policies.


The Data and Forensics team is a multi-skilled unit dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We gather, analyse and visualise data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite images, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling we aim to better explain the world while also showing how our journalism is done.

Why data journalism matters to Sky News

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