Channel rescuers charged with manslaughter in migrant deaths


The Paris prosecutor’s office said it had received a manslaughter complaint for failure to assist in the tragic sinking last month of a boat in the English Channel that claimed the lives of at least 27 people trying to reach Britain.

The trial for manslaughter, filed Friday by the French humanitarian organization Utopia 56, accuses the maritime prefect of the Channel and the North Sea, the Regional Operational Center for Surveillance and Rescue of Gris-Nez in the Pas-de- Calais and the British Coastguard for not doing enough to prevent deaths.

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Utopia 56 said it “intends that investigations be carried out to determine the responsibilities of the French and British rescuers in this tragedy”, adding that the people were abandoned “despite the English and French calls for help”.

Nikolai Posner, spokesperson for Utopia 56, told The Associated Press on Monday that the lawsuit was also meant to “remind our governments of the urgent need to challenge policies at our borders, which take human lives every day”.

The only two survivors of the disaster told Kurdish media that the migrants on the boat made distress calls which were ignored when their canoe deflated and its engine broke. They claim the British said the boat was in French waters, and the French the other way around. These accounts were confirmed by family members of the victim, who were in telephone contact during the attempted crossing.

The Channel and North Sea maritime prefect was not immediately available for comment on Monday.

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In London, lawsuits have also been formally launched by families of victims of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Earlier this month, 26 victims were formally identified, including seven women, a teenager and a 7-year-old girl. The identity of one migrant remains unknown. Investigators were able to confirm the identity of 16 Iraqi Kurds, including four women, a 16-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl. Among the victims were also an Iranian Kurd, three Ethiopians including two women, a Somali, four Afghans and an Egyptian, according to the press release. The adults were between 19 and 46 years old.

Their boat capsized on November 24 off the coast of northern France, in what the country’s interior minister has called the biggest migration tragedy on the dangerous crossing to Britain to date.

Ever-increasing numbers of people fleeing conflict or poverty are risking the perilous journey from France, hoping to gain asylum or find better opportunities in Britain. Crossings have tripled this year compared to 2020.

The tragedy sparked a new political crisis between Britain and France, who accused each other of not doing enough to dissuade people from crossing the Channel. European immigration officials have agreed to send a plane to survey the Channel coasts for smuggling activity.