Human rights groups have blamed the Government’s “hostile” refugee policies for the deaths of four migrants while attempting to cross the Channel on Wednesday.
Government sources told the PA news agency that 43 people were rescued, with more than 30 of those pulled from the water.
The founder of refugee charity Care4Calais, Clare Moseley, said the Government had “blood” on its hands over the incident.
“There are no words to express our horror and grief at today’s tragedy,” she said.
“A full year on from 32 people losing their lives in the Channel, our Government has done nothing to prevent further deaths and so has failed both the refugees who need our help and our country.
“Three weeks ago we stood in solidarity with the relatives of those 32 souls and felt their undiminished grief. It is unbearable to think that more families will now suffer the same pain.
“Both then and now, these deaths are wholly unnecessary and preventable. By failing to act, our government has blood on their hands.
Reacting to Care4Calais’ remarks, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I don’t think those sorts of comments are in any way appropriate at this time.
“The Government is firmly fixed on resolving this issue.”
In a statement, charity Refugee Action said the deaths were “predictable and avoidable”, and “caused by hostile Government policies”.
Chief executive Tim Naor Hilton said: “This is heartbreaking and our thoughts go out to the loved ones of people who have died and to refugees everywhere for who this will be retraumatising.
“Let’s be clear, today’s tragedy and those on previous days are predictable and inevitable, and caused by hostile Government policies – such as those announced yesterday by the Prime Minister – which are designed to keep people out, and not keep people safe.
“Ministers even ignored a Home Office report two years ago that revealed deterrent policies are ineffective and will not stop people risking their lives to cross the Channel.
“Since then, dozens of people have died off the south coast yet the Government has doubled down on expensive and futile get-tough-quick schemes that only make deaths in the Channel more likely.
“The Government must create more routes to reach the UK to claim asylum. Until they do, more people will die trying to reach safety here.”
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, accused the Government of “scapegoating” refugees.
“The Prime Minister’s remarks this week about people escaping persecution somehow acting ‘illegally’ or ‘cheating’ the system are at the heart of this problem, showing how the Government prefers to scapegoat desperate people rather than assist them,” he said.
“We need to restore some compassion to a failing and dysfunctional asylum system – many of those crossing the Channel are doing so out of desperation, largely because there are no safe and legal routes open to them, with some having family and other connections here.”
He called on the Government to establish safe asylum routes for refugees.
“If the Government really wanted to reduce the risk to these terrible Channel deaths, it would immediately establish safe asylum routes working with the French and other authorities,” he said.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said the deaths in the English Channel showed “debates about asylum seekers are not about statistics, but precious human lives”.
He said: “I’m praying for the victims of today’s terrible events in the Channel.
“It’s another reminder that debates about asylum seekers are not about statistics, but precious human lives.
“May God comfort those who mourn, those who survived and all those who work to save lives at sea.”
Steve Crawshaw, director of policy and advocacy at Freedom from Torture, said: “This tragedy is of the government’s own making.
“By shutting down all other means to seek sanctuary, they have left the perilous Channel crossing as the only route available for most people fleeing torture and war to reach the UK.”
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, also said that deterrence does not work.
“The time for a more rational conversation about these Channel crossings is long overdue,” he said.
“At every turn, those who can take meaningful steps to address it in ways which will make a difference simply decline to do so.
“Instead of taking compassionate and careful measures, they turn instead to rhetoric and bluster, and choose unworkable punitive measures and deterrence despite all the evidence that they just don’t work. That evidence is never more apparent than today, with lives lost, hopes and dreams shattered, families in mourning.”