Thirty-three migrants have drowned near Calais while trying to cross the Channel, France’s interior minister has said.

Gerald Darmanin also said five women and a girl were among the dead as he visited the northern French town.

Two people have been saved, he added.

Others are thought to be injured after the inflatable dinghy capsized near Calais this afternoon and several people are reported to be in hospital.

One UK patrol boat, one French lifeboat, and three helicopters have been involved in search and rescue efforts, said French maritime minister Annick Girardin.

‘Worst-ever’ incident involving migrants in Channel – live updates

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has held a meeting of the UK’s emergency COBRA committee in response.

He said he was "shocked, appalled and deeply saddened" and that human traffickers were "literally getting away with murder".

It is the worst-ever incident involving migrants in the Channel, according to French maritime authorities.

Franck Dhersin, deputy head of regional transport, said the number of dead had increased to 31 and that two people were still missing.

Liberation newspaper said it believed five women and a girl were among the victims and that two people smugglers were in custody.

Fisherman Nicolas Margolle said he had seen two small dinghies, one with people onboard and another empty.

He said another fisherman had called rescuers after seeing the empty dinghy and 15 people motionless in the water.

A French naval boat retrieved an unidentified number of dead and injured, including some who were unconscious, a maritime authority spokesperson said.

Conditions on the Channel were described as cool but calm, which may explain why there were a number of crossings on Wednesday.

Other migrants were brought ashore at Dover and Dungeness.

The Dover Strait is the world’s busiest shipping lane and more than 25,700 people have made the dangerous journey to the UK this year.

That figure is three times the total for 2020, according to data compiled by the PA news agency.

Dover MP Natalie Elphicke said: "This is an absolute tragedy. It underlines why saving lives at sea starts by stopping the boats entering the water in the first place.

"As winter is approaching the seas will get rougher, the water colder, the risk of even more lives tragically being lost greater.

"That’s why stopping these dangerous crossings is the humanitarian and right thing to do."

The surge in crossings has become an increasingly tense subject for the UK and French governments, with London accusing the French of not doing enough to stop people – despite giving them extra money.

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