Migrants found dead off coast of Creteil, east France

Image copyright EPA Image caption The boat had already travelled 300km (185 miles) from Sudan

At least 27 migrants have died after a boat carrying a group of refugees sank off the coast of eastern France.

France’s interior ministry said the boat had already travelled nearly 300km (185 miles) from Sudan before it sank, about six miles off the French resort of Creteil on Wednesday.

It said a rescue operation involving 13 lifeboats had found 24 bodies and that three other people were missing.

An armed patrol boat had managed to rescue 16 people from the water after the boat sank.

Exact numbers of those on board could not be confirmed.

A third of the surviving migrants are African refugees, according to the interior ministry.

Emergency services were called just before 1700 GMT (1600 BST) on Wednesday, but rescue operations were called off overnight when conditions became too bad.

A rescue centre in the north of the country will now be “used for long-term care of the remaining migrants,” the ministry said.

The passengers were believed to be travelling from near the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Rize Province, east of the Libyan coast.

France said the crossing was “thoroughly professional”, and work was ongoing to determine the cause of the sinking.

‘Very disturbing’

The passengers were believed to be travelling from the Rize Province, east of the Libyan coast

‘Clearly a dangerous journey’

Around 50,000 migrants have travelled through the pipeline into Italy via Libya this year, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates.

Around 21,000 of those have made the risky voyage by sea, while the majority have continued on to head north into France or Germany.

More than 3,200 people have been recorded dead or missing in the Mediterranean so far this year.

A report on migrant conditions by the European Parliament said the route was “clearly a dangerous journey, leaving them prey to traffickers who leave them stranded.”

“What has been tragically evident in recent months is that some migrants from Africa reach Europe and are dispersed across the continent and even within countries,” the report added.

It concluded that a common European solution was needed, because “only through close cooperation among EU countries, on asylum and immigration matters, and in the search and rescue of migrants at sea, can the EU create more effective mechanisms to help in this pressing emergency”.

Opposition leaders and charities in France have said the government has failed to respond to the rising number of new arrivals.

Oxfam said the number of migrants had fallen in recent years, but that many were being sent on to Britain or Germany via Britain, with the prospect of being tortured once in those countries.

“The numbers perishing or falling off the shores of France are very disturbing,” Yannick Pineau, Oxfam’s head of Mediterranean affairs, said.

“As the numbers of migrants are declining we see more people coming to France and are not able to meet their needs.”

Agatha Hahn, French Social Affairs Minister, was in the region of Corsica on Thursday, where she held talks with a local councillor who welcomed the increased French support for local authorities.

“For three days, the question of asylum seekers that arrive on the island of Corsica has been front and centre,” the newspaper Libération reported.

But she added that finding solutions required common European action on immigration and asylum.

“A European solution for refugees is possible because not all countries are affected the same way,” she said.

“We must say to asylum seekers the same thing, in places like Calais, Limoges, Paris or Nice: We cannot put you in danger.”

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