A year ago, 31 migrants froze to death in the Channel

12/9/2022 7:39 PM

There has been a lot of focus on Qatar and how it treats its migrant workers but a year ago 31 refugees slowly froze to death in the Channel whilst waiting for a rescue that never came.

It was the worst maritime disaster in the Channel for 30 years and drew attention to the desperate plight of refugees and migrants in Europe.

On the first anniversary of those deaths, bereaved relatives have written to Rishi Sunak urging him to prevent future tragedies as evidence emerges that French and UK rescue teams passed the buck to each other, failing to help the sinking boat.  

The BBC says that the distressed passengers were told to call UK emergency services despite being in French waters. French coastguards failed to send any help despite the UK requesting them to do so.

Among the dead were three children, seven women including one who was pregnant, and 21 men. Two people survived.

An interim report from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch published on Thursday confirmed that the boat had also reached UK waters at some point during the ordeal.

Bereaved relatives write to PM

On 24 November 2021, a flimsy boat with 33 people left France for England at midnight but it began to deflate and sink in the middle of the Channel.  

The letter to the prime minister from the families of the dead, co-signed by advocacy groups Care4Calais, Channel Rescue, several trade unions and MPs and celebs, says their calls for help were ignored.

"Around 3am the boat overturned, tipping all passengers into the water and some began to drown because of the waves. Over time, others resigned themselves to letting go as they gave in to the cold," the letter says.

According to documents seen by the BBC, French and UK rescue services disagreed on where the boat was located - in British or French waters.  

For two hours, French authorities urged passengers to call the UK for help even when their patrol reported the boat was in French waters. The UK sent a rescue vessel but the French failed to send a patrol boat.

It was only at 2pm the following day that a French fisherman spotted bodies in the water and raised the alarm.

"We demand answers to why French and British authorities failed desperate people who came asking for help," reads the letter.

"We demand an end to the poisonous rhetoric used by our politicians – calling innocent refugees ‘illegal migrants’ or, worse, ‘an invasion’ – which breeds fear and division.  

"We demand that the government changes its approach to Channel migrants. All the evidence shows that the overwhelming majority are in genuine need of our help, and if their claims were processed they would be granted asylum.  

"We call for safe passage to allow these refugees to claim asylum in Britain without risking their lives in the Channel."