French NGO files charges against authorities over Channel migrant deaths

Police patrol a beach in northern France.
Police patrol a beach in northern France. A French NGO has accused the authorities of allowing the deaths of migrants trying to cross the Channel. (Photo by FRANCOIS LO PRESTI / AFP)
Utopia 56, a migrants' rights NGO based in France, has filed manslaughter charges against French and British coastguard officials for failing to help the 27 people who drowned trying to cross the Channel last month.

A humanitarian association has filed manslaughter charges against high-ranking French and British officials for failing to help 27 people who drowned in November trying to cross the English Channel.

The charges, filed on Friday and seen by AFP on Monday, target Philippe Dutrieux, the coast prefect of Cherbourg, Marc Bonnafous, director of the French regional coastguard, and Claire Hughes, director of Her Majesty’s Coastguards, of “involuntary manslaughter” and “failure to help people in need”.

According to statements from two survivors, people close to the victims and people who managed to cross on the same day, distress calls were made to the French and British rescue services even before the migrants’ bodies were eventually found by a fishing trawler, the Utopia 56 association said.

“They were given no immediate assistance,” it said in a statement.

Most of the victims of the boat accident on November 26 were Iraqi Kurds.

Four Afghan men, three Ethiopians, a Somalian, an Egyptian and an Iranian Kurd were also drowned.

The dead included seven women, a 16-year-old and a seven-year-old.

The alleged shortcomings by the French and British coastguards were a “regular” occurrence, Utopia 56 said, adding it hoped an investigation would shed light on the circumstances of the deaths.

The association deplored that a French probe into the accident was focused essentially on the role of human traffickers, and not the authorities.

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The British side appeared not to have launched any investigation at all, it said.

The accident was the most deadly involving a migrant boat in the Channel and cast a spotlight on the increasing number of desperate people seeking to cross the narrow waterway between France and England.

It also caused major diplomatic tensions between London and Paris.

Within 48 hours of the accident, French President Emmanuel Macron accused British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of being “not serious” in his approach to stopping the crossings.

France was irked by Johnson’s initial reaction, which was seen as deflecting blame onto France.

According to the investigation, the migrants left in an inflatable boat from Loon-Plage in northern France at night.

After their boat capsized only two men, an Iraqi Kurd and a Sudanese national, were rescued safely.

According to the Iraqi survivor there had been a total of 33 people aboard.

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  1. Apart from the failed rescue, they should look at why they were allowed to set off in the first place and why ‘maritime law’ is being spouted when that is clearly no impediment to unseaworthy craft carrying children being stopped.

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