British and French governments sued for manslaughter over migrant deaths in Channel

The French and British governments are being sued over their handling of a November 24 migrant crossing in the Channel, that led to 27 deaths.

French humanitarian organisation Utopia 56 filed a manslaughter lawsuit against the maritime prefect of the Channel and North Sea, the Regional Operational Centre for Surveillance and Rescue of Gris-Nez in the Pas-de-Calais, and the British Coast Guard.

Utopia 56, an organisation focused on promoting the welfare of migrants, questioned whether British and French authorities did enough to try and prevent deaths in the Channel. Spokesperson, Nikolai Posner, told the Associated Press that the lawsuit “intends that investigations be carried out to determine the responsibilities of the French and British rescue services in this tragedy,” adding that it also serves to “remind our governments that it is urgent to question the policies at our borders, which take human lives every day”.

Only two people survived the November 24th disaster, and they argue that their calls for help were ignored. The two claim that British authorities argued they were in French water, while French authorities made the same argument that they were in British water.

Utopia 56 also made reference to an incident four days earlier, when they heard from one of another group of migrants. In a voice message, the migrant said: “If I call 999, they say call France. When we call France, they tell us to contact the United Kingdom. They’re both laughing at us”.

The organisation said they hoped the charges would lead to investigations which “shed all light on the circumstances of this shipwreck”.

A second legal challenge has been launched by the families of two men who died in the crossing, seeking a public inquiry. Duncan Lewis Solicitors sent the British government pre-action correspondence on their behalf.

Zana Mamand Mohammad, whose brother Twana is still missing after the November capsizing, told the Star “After 12 hours, one of the fishermen found them. It means no police came to help them, only the fishermen found them and called the police. Britain and France should apologise to the families of those who died and went missing in the Channel because they didn’t save them.”

He explained that his family had not been given information about his brother by French authorities, and were unable to travel to France due to visa limitations: “Our passport is not like the European passport, it’s not easy to get a visa. We hope we could travel to Europe and find our brother and the cause of this, but we cannot travel.

“We know those people are illegal persons but they should go to help them, rescue them and deport them. It’s better than dying in the sea.”

Channel crossings have tripled compared to 2020, and with limited access for asylum seekers to legal means of crossing, this is unlikely to change. Refugees seeking to claim asylum can only do so when they are on British soil, as government policy currently stands. The Conservatives’ approach continues to treat refugees like criminals, as seen with Priti Patel’s recent push for a “turn-back” policy, under which British authorities attempt to push migrants to turn around mid-crossing. This does not in fact deter crossings so much as it makes them more dangerous, increasing the likelihood of fatalities.

Philip English, is a member of the YCL’s Birmingham branch

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