A UK charity that helps refugees access safe routes to asylum has said the deaths of 27 migrants off the northern coast of France must be a "turning point".

Safe Passage International Chief Executive Beth Gardiner-Smith described the tragedy as devastating.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Ms Gardiner-Smith said men, women and children are taking "extraordinary steps" to try and reach safety.

"It has to be a turning point for all of us to think about how we can approach this situation."

The "failed policies" of increased security will not provide the solution, she said.

Ms Gardiner-Smith said the focus on safe routes is particularly important as it is the only way that governments will "break the business model of the smugglers".

"Unfortunately what we are hearing from Boris Johnson and the French government is more of the same. It is not solutions, they are doubling down on the same old failed policies and this has to stop."

Many people cannot imagine what pushes migrants to take dangerous journeys, Ms Gardiner-Smith said, but it is often the case that these "are people who have lost everything".

"When you have lost everything, the push factors, what you are fleeing from causes you to take these dangerous journeys."

She said the focus should not be on why people are taking these journeys but how to provide safe and humane alternatives for them.

It is easy to blame smuggler gangs, Ms Gardiner-Smith said, who are "preying" on people's desperation and exploiting them.

But "it's the actions of these two governments that have pushed people into the hands of the smugglers, and it's because of the closure of safe routes that so many more are being driven to take these dangerous journeys," she said.

"What we haven't seen from government yet is a real focus on opening safe legal alternatives for people to be able to reach the UK, to reach protection and to join family here".


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The secretary general of L'Auberge des Migrants, a group working with refugees and displaced people in Calais, has said there are up 1,500 people in the area who are prepared to risk their lives to reach the UK.

Maya Konforti told Morning Ireland that the UK is the last resort for migrants as they cannot seek asylum in France, having had their fingerprints taken in other European Union countries of entry, such as Hungary.

"Nobody should be crossing by boat but that's their only choice.

"They are risking their lives because they want to live, not because they want to die," she said.

Ms Konforti said the conditions being experienced by migrants in northern France are "horrible" and as bad as they were in 2015 when the so-called 'Calais jungle' existed.

"Tthey survive in absolutely horrible conditions," she said, and the French government has discouraged them by forbidding the distribution of food and "trying to do everything" it can to prevent them from entering the Calais area.