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Priti Patel today said the government was not “heartless” following the deaths of 27 people trying to cross the Channel.
The home secretary said there was “no quick fix” to the migrant crisis and described the deaths as “tragic drownings”.
She said the UK had a “humane approach” to asylum seekers and blamed traffickers for exploiting people.
However, she has come under fire for some of the measures the government has proposed to combat the problem.
Patel told the Commons: “We are not working just to end these crossings because we don’t care and we’re heartless.
“The United Kingdom has a clear and a generous humane approach to asylum seekers and refugees.
“Yes, people should come here legally and the system must be fair. But the main issue is this: crossing the Channel in small boats is extremely dangerous and yesterday was a moment that many of us had feared for many years.”
She said the criminals who facilitate the journeys were motivated by “self interest and profit” not compassion.
The cabinet minister went on to say they need to break their business model and bring them to justice.
She stressed the UK had been speaking with France and repeated their offer of a joint operation to stop the journeys taking place.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said yesterday’s “human tragedy” was the “most awful of reminders of the dangers of crossing the Channel”.
A child and a pregnant woman were among those who died when their boat sank in French waters as they tried to reach the UK on Wednesday.
Images have since emerged of the frail dinghy that apparently deflated just off Calais.
The lifeboat team found bodies floating in the water in the worst tragedy of its kind in Anglo-French history.
Two survivors have told police their dinghy was hit by a container ship, puncturing its rubber hull.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.