Britain and French officials trade blame after rubber boat sinks during a perilous crossing of the narrow seaway, drowning 27 people.

France says some 31,500 migrants have attempted to leave for Britain since the start of the year and 7,800 people have been rescued at sea.
France says some 31,500 migrants have attempted to leave for Britain since the start of the year and 7,800 people have been rescued at sea. (Ihlas Haber Ajansi)

At least 27 migrants and refugees, including children and women, have died after their small boat sank in an attempted crossing of the English Channel.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin confirmed the death toll on Thursday.

Earlier, the French authorities gave slightly differing figures on the numbers of dead, from 27 to  31. 

Darmanin also announced the arrest of a fifth suspected trafficker thought to have been involved in what was the deadliest migration tragedy to date on the dangerous sea lane.

He said authorities are working to determine the nationalities of victims from the sinking on Wednesday. 

Two survivors were treated for hypothermia. One is Iraqi, the other Somali, Darmanin said on RTL radio.

“Pregnant women, children died," he said, without detailing their numbers.

Darmanin on Wednesday had already announced the arrest of four suspected traffickers on suspicion of being linked to the sunken boat. 

He told RTL that a fifth suspected trafficker was picked up overnight.

READ MORE: Most people getting into the UK by boat are refugees, not economic migrants

One of the busiest shipping lanes

The Channel is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes and currents are strong. 

Human traffickers typically overload the dinghies, leaving them barely afloat and at the mercy of waves as they try to reach British shores.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was "shocked and appalled" by the deaths and called on France to do more to deter people from attempting the crossing. 

People trafficking gangs were "literally getting away with murder", he said.

President Emmanuel Macron said Britain needed to stop politicising the issue for domestic gain, while his Interior Minister, Gerald Darmanin, said Britain too had to be a part of the answer.

Before Wednesday's disaster, 14 people had drowned this year trying to make it to Britain, a local maritime prefecture official said. 

In 2020, a total of seven people died and two disappeared, while in 2019 four died.

READ MORE: UK orders review into English Channel migrant crisis

Source: TRTWorld and agencies