Image copyright Reuters Image caption The boat was so overloaded that there was nothing to help the people, the French coastguard says
Twenty-one migrants trying to cross the English Channel to Britain have died when their small boat capsized, the French coastguard has said.
Officials recovered 33 bodies from the water after the wreck was found in the early hours of Wednesday near Coquelles, a fishing village in the eastern coast of the country.
The identities of the victims are unknown, while they were all believed to be from Afghanistan.
There were also 42 people rescued after the boat capsized about 3km (1.8 miles) north of the Channel port of Calais.
Coquelles is a favoured spot for illegal immigrants trying to reach Britain because they are then treated as “containers”, meaning they are typically taken on to Dover.
About 40 are known to have died trying to make the crossing.
On Monday, Britain’s Channel Vafe patrol boat helped to rescue more than 100 people from the sea after they were cut off from a group making the crossing in a rubber dinghy.
Three people were later arrested on suspicion of illegal entry into the UK and helping migrants enter the country, the Border Force said.
Around 800,000 illegal immigrants enter the UK each year, according to the Home Office. Most are processed at centres operated by private firms, including G4S and Serco.
Late last year, the UK’s migration commissioner, Morgan Rees, called for urgent action against private firms dealing with migrants, arguing they were failing to protect them.
However, under the contract for the perimeter fences at Calais – one of the EU’s biggest border controls – French military authorities were appointed to do the contract, and work on a new “secure zone” there began in January.
In 2016, the UK’s border security systems had already said they had foiled about 200 attempted cross-Channel crossings by illegal immigrants.