THE First Minister has said that people looking to seek asylum are “human beings not political footballs” amid an escalating row around Channel crossings.

Nicola Sturgeon warned that if the root causes of the reasons people have for seeking asylum are not addressed then the cycle is doomed to be “endlessly repeated”.

The news comes as Home Secretary Priti Patel is set to give a statement to MPs on the deaths of the 27 people who had been trying to cross the Channel from France on Wednesday.

Ahead of talks with Patel, French interior minister Gerald Darmanin said the loss of 27 lives was an “absolute tragedy” as he blamed human trafficking gangs who promised people the “El Dorado of England” for a large fee.

READ MORE: UK Government should consult Holyrood on 'anti-refugee bill', Scots say

Boris Johnson called on France to agree to joint police patrols along the French Channel coast, while French politicians pointed the finger at UK authorities for failing to tackle the issue.

Pierre-Henri Dumont, the MP for Calais, rejected the Prime Minister’s proposal as a “crazy solution” that “will not change anything” along the vast shoreline.

Johnson spoke to President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday evening in the wake of the tragedy, with French officials saying pregnant women and children were among the dead.

Downing Street said the two leaders had agreed to “keep all options on the table” in their efforts to break up the human trafficking gangs responsible for putting desperate people at risk in one of the world’s busiest sea lanes.

However, Sturgeon said that people are only driven to use such gangs out of “desperation”, and called for solutions to look at addressing the root causes for their plight.

She wrote on Twitter: “Those seeking refuge from dreadful conditions are human beings not political footballs. They’re driven to smugglers out of desperation and lack of humanitarian routes.

“This, and root causes, needs addressed if such tragedies aren’t to be endlessly repeated.”

The Scottish Refugee Council said the people who died had been "horrendously" failed by the international refugee system.

"The UK and international governments must urgently make safe routes to protection a reality. Nobody should be forced to risk their lives in order to seek safety," it added.

The news comes after the Home Office and Priti Patel were accused of covering up their own research in order not to undermine the “myth” of a pull factor leading people to claim asylum in the UK rather than elsewhere.

Despite ministerial claims that this “pull factor” needs to be reduced by reducing benefits offered to refugees, campaigners say the research shows this is a “myth” and people choose where to migrate based on factors such as family and language rather than consideration of policy.

The National: Home Secretary Priti Patel during a visit to Thames Valley Police Training Centre in Reading

Last week, Patel (above) was accused of “deliberately misleading the public” after she claimed that 70% of people crossing the Channel are not “genuine asylum seekers”, despite evidence strongly suggesting this is not the case.

The row around Channel crossing was reignited after a reported 31 people died attempting to move from France to England.

A joint search and rescue operation by the French and British authorities that was launched after a fishing boat spotted people in the sea off France was finally called off late on Wednesday, and the 31 figure was revised down to 27.

The dead were said to include five women and a girl, while two survivors were picked up and were being treated in a French hospital. One of the dead women was later reported to have been pregnant.

French interior minister Darmanin (below) said the boat which sank had been very flimsy, likening it to “a pool you blow up in your garden”.

The National: Gerald Darmanin

He was unable to state the nationalities of the victims, but said the two survivors were Somali and Iraqi and had been treated for severe hypothermia.

The French authorities have arrested five suspected people traffickers in connection with the incident, while the regional prosecutor has opened an investigation into aggravated manslaughter.

Following a meeting of the Cobra emergencies committee, Johnson said it is clear that French operations to stop the migrant boats leaving “haven’t been enough” despite £54 million of UK support, adding that the people traffickers are “literally getting away with murder”.

However, Mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart said it is the British who are to blame and called on Johnson to “face up to his responsibilities”.

READ MORE: UK Government's 'racist anti-refugee bill could start race to the bottom’

“The British Government is to blame. I believe that Boris Johnson has, for the past year and a half, cynically chosen to blame France,” she said, according to French media reports.

Franck Dhersin, vice president of transport for the northern Hauts-de-France region, said the “mafia chiefs” at the top of the trafficking networks live in the UK and must be arrested.

“And the mafia chiefs live in London… They live in London peacefully, in beautiful villas, they earn hundreds of millions of euros every year, and they reinvest that money in the City,” he told French TV station BFMTV.

Johnson, meanwhile, said the Government will seek to “accelerate” measures in the Nationality and Borders Bill to enable the authorities to “distinguish between people who come here legally and people who come here illegally”.

But Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the “tragedy of this magnitude” should be the “wake-up call” needed for the Government to rethink its approach.

A number of people are also believed to have reached Britain in small boats on Wednesday, with an Afghan soldier who had worked with British forces reported to be among those landing at Dungeness in Kent.

More than 25,700 people have made the dangerous journey to the UK in small boats this year – three times the total for the whole of 2020, according to data compiled by the PA news agency.