British Red Cross chief executive Mike Adamson said: “Reports of more lives lost today in theChannel are truly heartbreaking and come far too soon after other recent deaths on this route.
“Our thoughts are with their loved ones, who may not even know yet what has happened.”
He told PA: “Nobody puts their life at risk unless they are absolutely desperate and feel they have no other options.
“Everyone deserves to live in safety and it should be unacceptable to us that people have no choice but to make dangerous crossings in their search for this.
“There are no simple answers, but we urge the government to rethink its plans for making the UK’s asylum system harder to access.
“This should start with ambitious plans for new safe routes and a commitment to resettle 10,000 people a year.”
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “It’s heartbreaking to hear that the lives of more ordinary people have been lost on a harrowing journey to Britain in search of safety.
“How many tragedies like this must we see before the government fundamentally changes its approach by committing to an ambitious expansion of safe routes for those men, women and children in desperate need of protection?
“Every day, people are forced to flee their home through no fault of their own. Now is the time to end the cruel and ineffective tactic of seeking to punish or push away those who try and find safety in our country.”
Jean-Marc Puissesseau, head of the ports of Calais and Boulogne, told BBC News he understood there were 50 people on the boat: “What I heard is that there are 30 people dead until now five or six which have been found.”
Boris Johnson to hold Cobra meeting
Prime minister Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee in response to the deaths in the Channel, Downing Street said.
Reuters reports that Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart told BFM television the death toll now stood at 27, minutes after another mayor put the tally at 24.
The local coast guard said they could not yet confirm the number of deaths, adding that rescue services had found around 20 people in the water of whom only two were conscious.
They estimated that there had been about 30 people on the dinghy before it capsized.
Unconfirmed reports said that an inflatable dinghy had capsized near Calais. A rescue operation is still under way with both French and British authorities involved looking for survivors.
The French interior ministry said in a statement that French patrol vessels found bodies and people unconscious in the water after a fisher sounded the alarm about the accident, AFP reports. Police then said in a statement that “over 20” people had died.
Three helicopters and three boats have been deployed to take part in the search, local authorities said.
The interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, who is heading to the scene, wrote on Twitter that “many people” had died in the incident, adding that “the criminal nature of the smugglers who organise these crossings cannot be condemned enough”.
Care4Calais, a charity working in northern France, helping refugees, tweeted:
More than 20 people dead after boat sinks in Channel
More than 20 people are understood to have died after their boat sank in the Channel, French media has reported.
BBC News reported that “at least 24 people” have died. The figure came from a local mayor speaking in France.
The French prime minister, Jean Castex, tweeted: “The shipwreck in the Channel is a tragedy, my thoughts are with the many missing and injured, victims of criminal smugglers who exploit their distress and misery.”