Only two people survived, a Somali and an Iraqi, according to French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. He said they were recovering from extreme hypothermia and would be questioned in due course.
But little is known of those who did not survive when their inflatable boat lost air and took on water off the northern port of Calais.
Among the dead were 17 men, seven women and three children, prosecutors in Lille told the BBC. Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart said one of the women was pregnant, while one of the children was a “little girl”.
Forensic investigations are under way but no-one has yet been named.
Many of them had travelled to France from the Middle East, unconfirmed reports suggest. The BBC has spoken to several charities, who said many of the dead appear to have been Kurds from Iraq and Iran. Some may have been Arabs and Afghans, as well as other Iranians.
Handa Majed, founder of the Kurdish Umbrella charity, said she had been in touch with various sources who were trying to identify those who died.
Based on her research, the majority of them appeared to be Iraqi Kurds, she said, and that was not surprising.
“Young people in Kurdistan don’t have any jobs,” she said. “There’s no prosperity. There’s no social support system like in the UK, so if you don’t have a job, you could starve to death.